Western Pocket Gopher (Thomomys mazama)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family:    Geomyidae
Size:    Length: 3.9 to 7.5 inches (10 to 19 cm)
Weight: 1.76 to 3.35 ounces (56 to 95 g)
Diet: Roots, plants and bulbs
Distribution: Western North America
Young:  2 to 7, once or twice per year
Animal Predators:  Coyotes, hawks, owls, foxes, skunks, badgers, snakes, weasels and domestic cats
IUCN Status: Lower Risk, Near Threatened; Vulnerable; Critically Endangered; Extinct (see Conservation below for details)
Terms: No special terms
Lifespan: 2 years or less



·       “Gopher” comes from the French word “gaufre” (waffle) and refers to the network of passages they excavate.

·       Gophers can run just as quickly backward as forward, both above ground and underneath.

·       Thomomys” comes from Greek words meaning “a heap” and “mouse.”

·       Pocket gophers prefer to remain underground and are seldom seen.



There are six species of gophers in the genus Thomomys, and they are closely related to the gophers of the genus Geomys. Gophers are sometimes mistaken for groundhogs, but groundhogs are much larger. These medium-sized rodents have a cylindrical body with reddish-brown fur and shaded orange-cinnamon on the sides of their shoulders and flanks. Their throat and forearms are covered with white hair, and their face has a white patch from the forehead to the nostrils. They have short legs, small eyes and ears, a short tail and heavily muscled shoulders, which come in handy for digging. 



Western pocket gophers are found in western Washington and Oregon, and south into northern California. The remaining species of pocket gophers are widely distributed throughout southern Canada and the U.S., and can be found as far south as Panama. Pocket gophers live in deserts, valleys, mountain meadows and farmland, especially where the soil is loamy, but also in sandy and rocky areas.


Feeding Habits

When foraging above ground, pocket gophers store the food in their fur-lined cheek pouches to bring back to the burrow. They stay underground a good deal of the time, and although their burrowing aerates the soil, promoting plant growth, they are often viewed by farmers as serious pests because they eat crops, often starting underground with the root, creating damage to the plants. As well, one gopher may excavate up to one ton of soil per year, leaving mounds above the earth that interfere with farm machinery. 



Mating season takes place in early spring, then the female gives birth to two to seven young in her burrow following a 20 to 30 day pregnancy. The young are born hairless and blind and will not begin to see or hear for the next two to three days. They begin eating greens at three weeks and at six weeks are weaned. By two months, the young will leave their mother’s burrow to travel to a new area where they will each dig their own burrow before mating season begins. 



Gophers live alone in shallow, underground burrows that are visible from above ground by the mounds of earth they form. Gophers do not hibernate, and need to store large quantities of food under the ground in order to survive the winter. Within the burrow is a nesting chamber lined with grasses and leaves, as well as several storerooms and toilets. They are not sociable and will become very angry if another gopher enters their burrow. The only time a gopher may safely enter the burrow of another is during mating season, when a male moves in with a female for a short period of time. Gophers’ tails are extremely sensitive and they will use their tail to feel the way if it becomes necessary to enter the burrow backwards (when a predator is near). 



The IUCN lists several subspecies of pocket gophers. The Tacoma pocket gopher is listed as Extinct, while the Cathlamet pocket gopher is listed as Critically Endangered. The Rocky Prairie pocket gopher, the Yelm Prairie pocket gopher, the Puget Sound pocket gopher, the Olympia pocket gopher and the Roy Prairie pocket gopher are listed as Vulnerable, while the Rogue River pocket gopher and the Olympic Mountains pocket gopher are listed as Lower Risk, Near Threatened. 










Western Pocket Gopher Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US