Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Gopher State

Hello, everyone!

As I mentioned last week, things have been busy here. Sis K and I had such a good visit; hanging out with her was one of the highlights of my year!


In house buying news, we close on our new place Oct. 21st! I am realizing that every item in our apartment will have to be moved. By us. It will be a good opportunity to get rid of crapola, right? Plus, all the yucky stuff can be hidden in our future basement, two-car garage or shed.


In World Critter News:

Hawaii lists 48 species as endangered!

Save the wolverines!

A giant dinosaur that breathed like a bird?

An ancient goose with teeth? I wonder if the geese I saw today wished they had teeth? Maybe their poop is weapon enough.

After seeing a gopher this summer, I knew I needed to write about them here. Not only am I running out of rodents to profile, but also, I've lived in the Gopher State for over eight years!

The problem is that Goldy Gopher is really modeled after a thirteen-lined ground squirrel, not a true gopher!

The thirteen-lined ground squirrel:

(Actually, Goldy's tail looks more like a chipmunk tail to me, but anyway....)

In general, the ground squirrels described below share many characteristics. They are diurnal, or active during the day. They range from four to twelve inches long. Ground squirrels form tunnel communities and call to each other with high pitched squeaks. While their main foods are roots, plants and grains, the squirrels will eat the occasional bug, egg or baby bird. Frequency and time of mating depends on the climate, but most ground squirrels have at least one litter per year, and are sexually mature after their first year.


A member of the squirrel family Sciuridae, thirteen-lined ground squirrels are related to chipmunks and tree squirrels. They dig tunnels ranging from 15 to 20 feet long, in a territory up to three acres in size. As summer progresses, these ground squirrels gain as much fat as possible and dig deeper hibernation chambers in their tunnels. As early as October, Squinneys (as they're known in Iowa!), start hibernating. Their respirations decrease from an average between 100 to 200 breaths per minute to only one breath per five minutes!

Other Minnesota ground squirrels include Franklin's ground squirrel, named after the British Arctic Explorer Sir John Franklin, and Richardson's ground squirrel, named after the Scottish naturalist Sir John Richardson.

Franklin's ground squirrel:
These animals resemble tree squirrels, but live more like prairie dogs in similar open habitats. They are much more omnivorous than other ground squirrels, consuming eggs, baby birds, insects and rodents along with plant matter.

Richardson's ground squirrel:
These guys are known as flickertails, as they wiggle said item constantly! Richardson's ground squirrel is the state animal of North Dakota, also known as the Flickertail State? Apparently Richardson's squirrels were too plentiful in Saskatchewan, so the province had a controversial open season for them in 2002 and 2003.

Now, let's turn to an actual gopher! Part of the family Geomyidae, or true gophers, pocket gophers are much bigger than ground squirrels.


Look at those digging paws! In one year a pocket gopher can dig 300 mounds and move four tons of soil. As you can maybe guess, they are mostly underground dudes, and therefore have poor eyesight. Dandelion and alfalfa roots are their favorite meal, and they prefer moist soil, which can bring them closer to crops and yards.

Side Note: Does anyone else think of junior high typing class when they see the word "alfalfa"? I'm just wondering.

These fatties can weigh up to two pounds, with the males being twice as large as the female. They are larder hoarders, meaning they store food in their cheek pockets and carry it to holding rooms within their tunnels. The cheek pockets, which give these rodents their name, are huge, reaching from the sides of their mouth all the way back to their shoulders!

While ground squirrels leave mostly small holes as signs of their tunnels, pocket gophers announce their presence with large, fan shaped piles of dirt reaching up to eight inches high!

Unlike ground squirrels, who share tunnels, pocket gophers are usually alone in their tunnels, with the exception of mating season and when babies are born. During mating season, male pocket gophers dig tunnels hoping to intersect with a female's chamber!


Pocket gophers are active year round, and keep tunneling beneath the snow! If you ever see something resembling this after the snow melts:
Pocket Gopher Evidence.jpg
You know a pocket gopher is in your 'hood!

I must say, I was really excited about this gopher post, until I realized the only one of these critters I've ever seen is Goldy, and the thirteen-lined ground squirrel he was designed to resemble! Have any of you seen any of the other ground squirrels or pocket gophers?

Do you have any autumn critter stories?

Tunnel of love,


Cousin JS said...

Thanks for the ground squirrel report. We got dozens here in Wausau. I have resorted to taking the stray golf balls from the driving range and sticking them in the holes, but they find a way around them. I have also seen at least one scurry up and under our siding...and there's a fat cat next store who does nothing.

I love the new digs in MSP - RM and CR's family are dying for us to come up there some weekend. We just never have any time.

Miss Lippy said...

Congrats on the house! I'm so excited for you guys. Your yard looks like it might house many a critter. I myself have never seen a real gopher, but there are a lot of 13-lined ground squirrels around here.

guardianangel1212 said...

My son just found a baby pocket gopher in the Los Angeles area and brought it to me as I do wildlife rescue and rehab. any help on how to care and relocate it to it's proper living area (state?)once it is grown a bit, please advise. thanks
lj.herndon@yahoo.com. here is a photo on my facebook page: