Species accounts

Valley pocket gopher

Thomomys bottae

TAXONOMY

Thomomys bottae (Eydoux and Gervais, 1836), coast of California, United States. One hundred ninety-one subspecies.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Smooth-toothed pocket gopher, western pocket gopher; Spanish: Tuza, topo.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length 6-13 in (15-33 cm); weight 1.6-21 oz (45-600 g). Color ranges from pale gray to russet to black.

DISTRIBUTION

Western United States into northern Mexico. Sea level to approximately 10,000 ft (3,000 m).

HABITAT

Common in valleys, woodlands, deserts, and agricultural fields.

BEHAVIOR

Lives singly in subterranean burrow system; asocial and aggressive toward individuals of same species, except during breeding season when brief mating encounters occur.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Herbivorous; burrows through the soil in search of roots and tubers. Occasionally feeds on surface vegetation near entrance to burrow.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Polygamous. Breeds once, sometimes twice per year (spring and fall); generally two to four young per litter.

CONSERVATION STATUS Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Common lawn, garden, and agricultural pest in some regions. ♦

Plains pocket gopher

Geomys bursarius TAXONOMY

Geomys bursarius (Shaw, 1800), upper Mississippi Valley, United States. Twenty-one subspecies.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Eastern pocket gopher.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length 6-13 in (15-36 cm); weight 7-21 oz (200-600 g). Color ranges from pale brown to black.

DISTRIBUTION

Extreme southern Manitoba, Canada through southern Texas.

HABITAT

Common in plains, valleys, woodlands, and agricultural fields.

Pocket Gopher ReproductionZygogeomys Merriam

BEHAVIOR

Lives singly in subterranean burrow system; asocial and aggressive toward individuals of same species, except during breeding season when brief mating encounters occur.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Herbivorous; burrows through the soil in search of roots and tubers. Occasionally feeds on surface vegetation near entrance to burrow.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Polygamous. Breeds once, sometimes twice per year (spring and fall); generally one to three young per litter.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Common lawn, garden, and agricultural pest in some regions. ♦

Michoacan pocket gopher

Zygogeomys trichopus

TAXONOMY

Zygogeomys trichopus Merriam, 1895, Michoacan, Mexico. Two subspecies.

OTHER COMMON NAMES None known.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length 10-13 in (26-36 cm); weight 7-21 oz (200-600 g).

DISTRIBUTION

Known only from four isolated localities in central Michoacan, Mexico.

HABITAT

Small clearings in pine, spruce, and alder forests between approximately 3,000-10,000 ft (900-3,000 m).

BEHAVIOR

Lives singly in subterranean burrow system; asocial, but less aggressive than other species of pocket gopher; surface mounds are tall and conical, unlike those of all other species.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Herbivorous; burrows through the soil in search of roots and tubers. Unlike all other pocket gopher species, Zygogeomys trichopus is not known to feed on surface vegetation near the entrance to its burrow.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Unknown; probably breeds once per year; a pregnant female with a single embryo was captured in the month of December.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Listed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered; known only from small, isolated populations that may be threatened by competition from other species of pocket gophers and habitat destruction by humans.

Large pocket gopher

Orthogeomys grandis

TAXONOMY

Orthogeomys grandis (Thomas, 1893), Dueñas, Guatemala. Sixteen subspecies.

OTHER COMMON NAMES English: Giant pocket gopher.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length 12-18 in (31-44 cm); weight 18-34 oz (500-950 g). Color is dark brown or black above and paler below.

DISTRIBUTION

Western regions of southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

HABITAT

Variable, from arid tropical lowlands to moist tropical forests at higher elevations. Sea level to approximately 10,000 ft (3,000 m).

BEHAVIOR

Lives singly in subterranean burrow system; primarily nocturnal and less active than most other species.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Herbivorous; burrows through the soil in search of roots and tubers. Diet also includes the roots of cultivated plants, including banana trees and sugar cane.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Unknown; may breed throughout the year, as do other species in this genus.

CONSERVATION STATUS Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

None at present, although human populations are expanding into the high-elevation habitat characteristic of this species. ♦

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

This species is considered a major agricultural pest, and in many areas of Latin America, professional tuceros (pocket gopher catchers) charge farmers a small price to remove pocket gophers from their land. Many Mexican villages have a tucero, and it is said that the job is respected and passed from father to son. In some areas of Latin America, local people regard the meat of Orthogeomys grandis as a delicacy. ♦

Yellow-faced pocket gopher

Cratogeomys castanops

TAXONOMY

Cratogeomys castanops (Baird, 1852), Colorado, United States. Twenty-five subspecies.

OTHER COMMON NAMES None known.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length 8-16 in (20-40 cm); weight 8-53 oz (230-1,500 g). Color is yellowish brown and paler below.

DISTRIBUTION

Western United States (Colorado and Kansas) southward through northcentral Mexico.

HABITAT

Common in grassy plains, deserts, tropical lowland forests, montane forests, and agricultural fields. Sea level to approximately 12,000 ft (3,700 m).

BEHAVIOR

Lives singly in subterranean burrow system; asocial and aggressive toward individuals of same species, except during breeding season when brief mating encounters occur.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Herbivorous; burrows through the soil in search of roots and tubers. Occasionally feeds on surface vegetation near entrance to burrow. Occurs commonly in agricultural areas, especially alfalfa, banana, corn, and sugar cane fields.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Polygamous. May breed only once per year (spring) in the north and throughout the year in the south; generally one to three young per litter.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Common lawn, garden, and agricultural pest in some regions. ♦

Queretaro pocket gopher

Cratogeomys neglectus

TAXONOMY

Cratogeomys neglectus (Merriam, 1902), Queretaro, Mexico. No subspecies recognized.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

None known.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length 9-14 in (22-37 cm); weight 7-18 oz (200-500 g). Color is yellow, brown, or blackish and paler below.

DISTRIBUTION

Known only from one isolated region near the town of Pinal de Amoles, Queretaro, Mexico.

HABITAT

Locally common in mountain valleys where oak woodlands meet higher-elevation pine forests. Also occur in agricultural fields (corn, potatoes, and apples). Approximately 8,600-9,600 ft (2,600-2,900 m).

BEHAVIOR

Lives singly in subterranean burrow system; asocial and aggressive toward individuals of same species, except during breeding season when brief mating encounters occur.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Herbivorous; burrows through the soil in search of roots and tubers. Occasionally feeds on surface vegetation near entrance to burrow. Also feeds on corn and potato crops and the roots of apple trees.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Little is known; may breed only once per year (spring); probably only one to three young per litter. Assumed polygamous.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Listed on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered. The major threat to this species comes from encroachment of human agriculture into its natural range.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Common agricultural pest throughout its limited range. ♦

Buller's pocket gopher

Pappogeomys bulleri

TAXONOMY

Pappogeomys bulleri (Thomas, 1892), near Talpa, Jalisco, Mexico. Eight subspecies.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

None known.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length 7-10 in (18-27 cm); weight 3-9 oz (80-250 g). Color is orange-cinnamon to dark brown and paler below.

DISTRIBUTION

Western Mexico (Colima, Jalisco, and Nayarit).

HABITAT

Mountain slopes and plains at elevations between 3,000 and 10,000 ft (900-3,000 m).

BEHAVIOR

Lives singly in subterranean burrow system; asocial and aggressive toward individuals of same species, except during breeding season when brief mating encounters occur. Assumed polygamous.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Herbivorous; burrows through the soil in search of roots and tubers. Occasionally feeds on surface vegetation near entrance to burrow. Occurs commonly in agricultural areas, especially corn and bean fields.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Nothing is known.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Common agricultural pest in some parts of its range. ♦

Common name / Scientific name

Physical characteristics

Habitat and behavior

Distribution

Diet

Conservation status

Northern pocket gopher Thomomys talpoides

Mazama pocket gopher Thomomys mazama

Southern pocket gopher Thomomys umbrinus

Mountain pocket gopher Thomomys montícola

Camas pocket gopher Thomomys bulbivorus

Desert pocket gopher Geomys arenarius

Texas pocket gopher Geomys personatus

Tropical pocket gopher Geomys tropicalis

Southeastern pocket gopher Geomys pinetis

[continued]

Variable in color from yellowish brown to Found generally in cool, pale gray above and paler below. Outer face of each upper incisor smooth (without grooves). Small pocket gopher: length 6-10 in (15-27 cm); weight 3-9 oz (80-250 g).

Variable in color from reddish brown to black above and paler below. Outer face of each upper incisor smooth (without grooves). Small pocket gopher: length

Highly variable in color from nearly white to black above and somewhat paler below. Outer face of each upper incisor smooth (without grooves). Small pocket gopher: length 6-10 in (15-27 cm); weight 3-9 oz (80-250 g).

Dark brown above and somewhat paler below; ears pointed, rather than rounded, as in most pocket gophers. Outer face of each upper incisor smooth (without grooves). Small pocket gopher: length

Large for genus; dark sooty brown above and somewhat paler below. Outer face of each upper incisor smooth (without grooves). Medium-sized pocket gopher: length 9-12 in (24-30 cm); weight

Very light brown to almost white above and somewhat paler below. Has two longitudinal grooves on outer face of each upper incisor. Medium-sized pocket gopher: length 9-11 in (24-28 cm); weight 8-14 oz (230-400 g).

Light brown to grayish drab above and somewhat paler below. Has two longitudinal grooves on outer face of each upper incisor. Medium-sized pocket gopher: length 9-11 in (24-28 cm); weight 8-14 oz (230-400 g).

Light brown above and somewhat paler below. Has two longitudinal grooves on outer face of each upper incisor Medium-sized pocket gopher: length

Light brown above and somewhat paler below. Has two longitudinal grooves on outer face of each upper incisor. Medium-sized pocket gopher: length 9-12 in (24-30 cm); weight 8-14 oz (230-400 g).

montane meadows, often near pine forests. Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Found generally in cool, montane meadows, often near pine forests. Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

South-central Canada Plant roots, bulbs, and Not threatened through western United tubers, as typical for the

States.

Western Washington, western Oregon, and northern California, United States.

Found a variety of habitats, including grasslands, woodlands, and pine forests from sea level to more than 12,000 ft (3,600 m). Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Found in or near pine forests in mountainous areas. Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Found mainly in open valleys and grasslands. Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Found in arid and sandy desert habitats. Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Found in areas with deep, sandy soils. Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Found in coastal areas with deep, sandy soils. Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Generally found in areas with deep, sandy soils, including open grasslands and low-elevation pine forests. Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Southern Arizona, United States, through central Mexico.

Sierra Nevada of California, United States.

Restricted to the Willamette Valley of Oregon, United States.

family.

Plant roots, bulbs, and tubers.

Plant roots, bulbs, and tubers.

Lower Risk/Near Threatened

Not threatened

Plant roots, bulbs, and tubers.

Not threatened

Southern New Mexico, extreme western Texas, (United States) and northern Chihuihui, Mexico.

Extreme southern Texas, United States, and nearby Padre and Mustang Islands.

Restricted to vicinity immediately north of Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico.

Southern Alabama, southern Georgia, and northern Florida, United States.

Plant roots, bulbs, and tubers.

Plant roots, bulbs, and tubers.

Plant roots, bulbs, and tubers.

Plant roots, bulbs, and tubers.

Plant roots, bulbs, and tubers.

Not threatened

Lower Risk/Near Threatened

Lower Risk/Near Threatened

Vulnerable

Not threatened

Common name / Scientific name

Physical characteristics

Habitat and behavior

Distribution

Diet

Conservation status

Hispid pocket gopher Orthogeomys hispidus

Big pocket gopher Orthogeomys lanius

Variable pocket gopher Orthogeomys heterodus

Chiriquá pocket gopher Orthogeomys cavator

Darién pocket gopher Orthogeomys darlensls

Underwood's pocket gopher Orthogeomys underwoodi

Cherrie's pocket gopher Orthogeomys cherrlel

Nicaraguan pocket gopher Orthogeomys matagalpae

Pelage very sparse and stiff above and almost naked below; grayish to black above and paler below. Has one longitudinal groove on outer face of each upper incisor. Large pocket gopher: length 12-18 in (31-44 cm); weight 18-33 oz (500-950 g).

Found in humid lowland habitats and low-elevation pine forests up to approximately 5,000 ft (1,500 m). Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Pelage soft and woolly; grayish brown above and paler below. Has one longitudinal groove on outer face of each upper incisor. Large pocket gopher: length fossorial and asocial 12-18 in (31-44 cm); weight 18-33 oz (500-950 g).

Pelage soft and dense; blackish above and paler below. Has one longitudinal groove on outer face of each upper incisor. Large pocket gopher: length 12-19 in (31-49 cm); weight 18-34 oz (500-950 g).

Pelage soft and dense; dark brown to almost blackish above and paler below. Has one longitudinal groove on outer face of each upper incisor. Large pocket gopher: length 12-19 in (31-49 cm); weight 18-34 oz (500-950 g).

Pelage soft and dense; dull brown to almost blackish above and paler below. Has one longitudinal groove on outer face of each upper incisor. Large pocket gopher: length 12-19 in (31-49 cm); weight 18-34 oz (500-950 g).

Pelage generally short and sparse; blackish above with white transverse belt 0.5-1.5 in (1.3-3.8 cm) wide encircling the lumbar region; paler below. A few specimens known to lack transverse belt. Has one longitudinal groove on outer face of each upper incisor. Medium-sized pocket gopher: length 9-12 in (24-30 cm); weight 8-14 oz (230-400 g).

Pelage generally short and sparse; dark brown to blackish above with large, triangle-shaped white spot on forehead; paler below. Has one longitudinal groove on outer face of each upper incisor. Medium-sized pocket gopher: length 9-12 in (24-30 cm); weight 8-14 oz (230-400 g).

Pelage generally short and sparse; dark brown to blackish above with large, triangle-shaped white spot on forehead; paler below. Has one longitudinal groove on outer face of each upper incisor. Medium-sized pocket gopher: length 9-12 in (24-30 cm); weight 8-14 oz (230-400 g).

Found in low-elevation tropical and semi-arid forests. Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Coastal regions of southeastern Mexico, Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, Guatemala, and northwestern Honduras.

Found in meadows adjacent to pine forests. Behavior typical of pocket gophers:

Found in open grasslands and tropical forests in highland habitats up to 8,000 ft (2,500 m). Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Found in tropical forests in highland habitats up to 8,000 ft (2,500 m). Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Found in small clearings in humid tropical forests at elevations between 1,600 and 5,000 ft (500-1,500 m). Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Found in coastal tropical and semi-arid forests. Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Plant roots, bulbs, and tubers.

Not threatened

Known only from the vicinity of Xuchil, Veracruz, Mexico.

Central highlands of Costa Rica.

Found in low-elevation tropical and semi-arid forests. Behavior typical of pocket gophers: fossorial and asocial.

Plant roots, bulbs, and tubers.

Plant roots, bulbs, and tubers.

Not threatened

Mountains of southeastern Costa Rica and northwestern Panama.

Plant roots, bulbs, and tubers.

Lower Risk/Near Threatened

Not threatened

Mountains of southeastern Panama.

Plant roots, bulbs, and tubers.

Not threatened

Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

Plant roots, bulbs, and tubers.

Not threatened

Pacific and Atlantic Plant roots, bulbs, and coastal plains and tubers.

adjacent foothills of northwestern Costa

Rica.

Lower Risk/Near Threatened

South-central Nicaragua Plant roots, bulbs, and and east-central tubers.

Honduras.

Not threatened

[continued]

Common name /

Physical

Habitat and

Conservation

Scientific name

characteristics

behavior

Distribution

Diet

status

Merriam's pocket gopher

Pelage generally short and sometimes

Found in semi-arid grass

East-central Mexico

Plant roots, bulbs, and

Not threatened

Cratogeomys merriami

sparse; color variable, from yellowish

lands, and nearby forests

(Hidalgo, Puebla, and

tubers.

buff to glossy black above; paler below.

between 5,000 and 12,500 ft

Veracruz).

Has one longitudinal groove on outer

(1,500-3,800 m). Behavior

face of each upper incisor. Medium-sized

typical of pocket gophers:

pocket gopher: length 9-16 in

fossorial and asocial.

(24-40 cm); weight 10-21 oz (300-

600 g).

Smoky pocket gopher

Pelage generally coarse and bristly; dark

Found in semi-arid lowland

Known from one small

Plant roots, bulbs, and

Lower Risk/Near

Cratogeomys fumosus

grayish brown above, paler below. Has

habitats. Behavior typical of

region in Colima,

tubers.

Threatened

one longitudinal groove on outer face of

pocket gophers: fossorial and

Mexico.

each upper incisor. Medium-sized pocket

asocial.

gopher: length 9-16 in (24-40 cm);

weight 10-21 oz (300-600 g).

Zinser's pocket gopher

Pelage soft and lax; dark grayish brown

Found in semi-arid habitats

Known from one small

Plant roots, bulbs, and

Lower Risk/Near

Cratogeomys zinseri

above, paler below. Has one longitudinal

with deep, sandy soils.

region near Lagos de

tubers.

Threatened

groove on outer face of each upper

Behavior typical of pocket

Moreno, Jalisco,

incisor. Medium-sized pocket gopher:

gophers: fossorial and

Mexico.

length 9-16 in (24-40 cm); weight

asocial.

10-21 oz (300-600 g).

Books

Hafner, M. S., J. W. Demastes, T. A. Spradling, and D. L. Reed. "Cophylogeny Between Pocket Gophers and Chewing Lice." In Tangled Trees: Phylogeny, Cospeciation, and Coevolution, edited by R. D. M. Page. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Hall, E. R. The Mammals of North America. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1981.

Nowak, R. M. Walker's Mammals of the World. 6th ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Periodicals

Demastes, J. W., T. A. Spradling, M. S. Hafner, D. J. Hafner, and D. L. Reed. "Systematics and Phylogeography of

Pocket Gophers in the Genera Cratogeomys and Pappogeomys." Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 22, no. 1 (2002): 144-154.

Hovey, K., and D. Rissolo. "The Process and Sociocultural Significance of Gopher Trapping in a Modern Yucatec Maya Community." Journal of Ethnobiology 19, no. 2 (1999): 261-276.

Reichman, O. J., and E. W. Seabloom. "The Role of Pocket Gophers as Subterranean Ecosystem Engineers." Trends in Ecology & Evolution 17, no. 1 (2002): 44-49.

Mark S. Hafner, PhD

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