Plains Pocket Gopher Geomys bursarius
Seldom-seen soil-dwelling rodent
Basic description: brown-gray (soil) colored, bulky animal, with large claws equipped for digging, small eyes and ears, and a short tail.
Length: Body– 5 to 14 in. Tail– 1 to 4 in.
Weight: 2 to 3 lbs.
Range: the Plains states from Winnipeg, Manitoba south to southern New Mexico and Texas
Diet: grasses, forbs, seeds
Mating: Spring. Gestation period of 30 days, Litter of 1-6.
Life Expectancy: ~2 years
These territorial prairie rodents are well-known for their disruptive burrowing and foraging habits, building elaborate underground tunnels to forage for roots, tubers, and sometimes whole grasses. Sometimes their foraging activity is so influential that it can affect the vegetation composition in the prairie above. Not only are the gophers themselves prey to hawks, snakes, foxes, and badgers, but pocket gopher burrows can provide a home for crickets, spiders, toads, and ground squirrels if they are abandoned.
Though pocket gophers spend most of their time underground and are difficult to observe, their burrows, visible as protruding clumps of loose soil, are easy to see in Bakke Prairie and other restored grasslands in the Arb. When the Arb was still agricultural land, pocket gophers were nowhere to be found, since they cannot tolerate continuous plowing. But as the prairies were restored, the rodents gradually moved in from roadside areas where they survived in small numbers. Nowadays one of the best ways to see gopher sign is to walk through the charred prairie following a burn, when their digging mounds are in plain sight.