ALWAYS IN SEASON: Pocket gophers top animal enemies list
Those of you who read this column regularly will have figured out that I am pretty much an animal lover. I hope you won't be too chagrined to learn, therefore, that I do have animal enemies. Yep! Animal enemies. Right at the moment, Geomys bursar...
Those of you who read this column regularly will have figured out that I am pretty much an animal lover.
I hope you won't be too chagrined to learn, therefore, that I do have animal enemies.
Yep! Animal enemies.
Right at the moment, Geomys bursarius is at the top of my list. Or maybe it's Thamomys talpoides.
These are the two species of pocket gophers that occur in this area.
In English, Thomomys is the Northern pocket gopher. Geomys is Plains pocket gopher.
You might think that the Plains pocket gopher would live farther west, out on the Great Plains themselves, and that the Northern pocket gopher would be more at home in Minnesota and other Midwestern states.
The Plains pocket gopher occurs from the Great Lakes westward; the Northern pocket gopher is found across the Great Plains.
As it happens, the two ranges overlap at the western edge of the Red River Valley. Either one might occur at my place west of Gilby, N.D.
Thus, I don't know for sure which of them should be on my list of animal enemies.
I don't feel too bad about this lack of certainty.
In "The Mammals of Minnesota," Evan B. Hazard says, "The surest distinguishing feature is on the anterior surfaces of the upper incisors. Those of Thomomys each have a faint groove near the inside edge; those of Geomys have two pronounced grooves."
Now I work with words, so I know that means that those big buck teeth are different in the different species.
But honestly, I've never been that intimate with a pocket gopher.
Hazard says that Geomys is bigger than Thomomys, with bigger front legs and heavier claws. Geomys is shiny brown, Hazard says, while Thomomys "lacks the sheen typical of its larger relative," Geomys.
But size is never a reliable field mark, since it's hard to judge on sight just how big a small animal is. There's nothing to compare it to.
The same could be said for "sheen."
But it really doesn't make any difference, since it's likely that either species would find a place on the enemies list -- because they share an annoying behavior.
They are burrowers.
In fact, Hazard says that pocket gophers are among the most "fossorial" of all mammals. That's scientific talk for animals that spend most of their time underground.
Not that they aren't conspicuous. Pocket gophers tunnel under ground and throw dirt up behind them. This creates large mounds that interfere with all sorts of activities, including lawn mowing.
Worse, though, pocket gophers eat vegetables. I've lost carrots and potatoes to pocket gophers, and a disturbing percentage of this year's squash crop had scars that looked suspiciously like the marks of big buck teeth.
One day during the summer, I watched a plant disappear down a hole. At first, I didn't appreciate what had happened, but later I realized that a pocket gopher had made a meal of one of my flowering plants.
This wasn't my only close encounter with a pocket gopher. In June 2000, heavy rains -- at least 17 inches in 12 hours -- caused flooding at my place. That morning, I pulled a pocket gopher out of the water, since I am an animal lover, after all, and I saw the gopher as a victim of the flood.
The rascal repaid me by reproducing prodigiously.
Had I known more about gophers, I might have examined the beastie's teeth. But it wasn't at all friendly -- a characteristic that suggests the Plains pocket gopher, mammal man Bob Seabloom tells me. Seabloom is retired from UND's biology faculty.
My closest encounter with a pocket gopher came when Marley the cat brought one home. Marley finds far more animals than I do, but he doesn't discriminate as to species.
The fact that the cat caught it suggests that the beast was the Northern pocket gopher, Seabloom says, because they are more likely to venture above ground than the more fossorial (remember that word) Plains pocket gopher.
Seabloom had one other reassuring suggestion. There are probably fewer pocket gophers than I imagine, he said, because they are solitary, territorial animals. Many of the burrows in my yard, he said, might be the work of a single animal.
Jacobs is editor and publisher of the Herald.