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Mole Activity Identification 101

Mole mounds are circular. The mounds often remind me of a volcano with stubby cigar shaped clods strewn on top. The characteristic shape and clods are created as the mole pushes the earth to the surface up through the center of the mound with its front paws. The earthen plug that is so characteristic of a gopher, is not visible in a mole mound. However, if the soil is cleared, the earthen plug sealing the tunnel will be found in the center of the cleared area. Mound size can range from 4 to 24 inches across. Deep excavation produces larger mounds. Heavy mounding in a small areas indicates nesting preparation. Counting the number of mounds, especially during spring and fall, is not a reliable method of taking a mole census. Experts believe that 2 to 5 moles per acre is a lot of moles!

Fresh Mole Mound on Old         Mole Clods are the Giveaway     Mole Mounds Series of Five

Foraging tunnels winding like varicose veins 1 to 2 inches under the surface. Foraging occurs particularly in lawns and mulched areas. These winding tunnels allow the mole to feed on earthworms, grubs and an assortment of invertebrates during favorable temperatures. Some foraging tunnels are used only once and the mole never returns to them. Step them down in a few places and if the mole is foraging the tunnel will be repaired in a day or two. During winter temperatures, foraging tunnels are not used because moles feed deeper underground where food is more plentiful.

Mole Foraging Tunnels      Mole Foraging in Mulch

Shallow surface tunnels used as travel lanes. Travel lanes are straighter than foraging tunnels and usually follow the path of least resistance; man made borders such as sidewalks, foundations, as well as mulched areas. This system of travel lanes to numerous feeding areas supply a large amount of worms, grubs, larvae, etc. once established.

Raised Tunnel Used as a Travel Lane       Mole Travel Lane Along Patio      Mole Travel Lane in Mulch

Gopher vs. Mole

While moles and gophers both live in sealed, underground tunnels, there are clear differences between these pests, their surface activity and the damage they create. Different sized traps and trapping methods are used for moles than gophers, so careful observation and learning pest identification is essential.

The Camas Pocket Gopher is named for its external fur lined cheek pouches.

The Camas Pocket Gopher is named for its external fur lined cheek pouches. Gophers gather and store plant material underground.

A mole is not a rodent, but an insectivore related to a bat and shrew. Moles eat live prey and cannot store food.

A mole is not a rodent, but an insectivore related to a bat and shrew. Moles eat live prey and cannot store food.

The Camas Pocket Gopher is named for its external fur lined cheek pouches. The gopher packs tender plant material in its pouches, the skin closes tightly around its teeth as the gopher digs and packs until the pouches are full must be taken below. Pocket gophers are herbivores. Roots, tubers, grasses, fruits, veggies are gathered in the fall stored deep in the earth similar to our cold boxes in the cellar. We have photos of food caches on the website.

Gophers are solitary and extremely territorial with two exceptions, during mating and while the female nurses and prepares her young to leave the nest. Gophers live deep in their tunnels for up to five years. Whatever the duration, when a gopher dies a new gopher moves in and uses the established tunnel system. A single gopher system includes intricate food caches, waste caches and grass lined sleeping rooms as deep as 6 feet. Every active tunnel and cache is sealed to keep its scent inside and predators and moisture outside. Adult male gophers often defend territories of up to 2,000 square feet. A series of gopher mounds in one area is the work of one gopher.

Gopher mounds are crescent or horseshoe-shaped and the earthen plug is off to one side. To determine the direction of the tunnel, image how the shape of the mound and placement of the plug is created as the gopher digs up from a lateral at a 45 degree angle that runs 6-12 inches underground. Gently, pop open the plug and probe for the direction of the tunnel. The tunnels will be 2 ½ to 3 ½ inches in diameter. The entire system of tunnels is sealed with earthen plugs.

Fresh-vs-Old-lg  A-Perfect-Gopher-Mound-lg  Fresh-Feed-Hole-lg

Sometimes, a gopher will feed above ground, venturing only a few inches from the tunnel opening. These feed holes look like plugs of dirt with a clipped band of vegetation around the hole.

Pop any fresh earthen plug open. If you opened a vacant tunnel, it will remain open, but if you breached an occupied system, the tunnel will be resealed within a few hours.

Gopher activity: 1) plant damage 2) crescent or horseshoe shaped mounds with a visible plug at the outer edge 3) feed holes marked with 3-4” earthen plugs especially in areas of clover and alfalfa with clipped vegetation around opening.

Stay tuned for moles.

The Love Life of the Pocket Gopher: Sex, Myths, & Facts of the Pocket Gopher Part 1

Angry Gopher Caught Outside the Burrow

This Gopher is in Defense Mode

Nothing steams up a boy gopher more than meeting another boy gopher. They squeal and hiss and clatter their teeth. Each tries to grab the other one by the nose with their long upper and lower front teeth. They hang on until the other one or both of them bleed to death. Sometimes they give up and live another day, but gophers are hemophiliacs, so it’s a bloody battle.

It is hard to understand why gophers have such a rotten disposition. They are cute, dark, furry animals about the size of a rat with long front teeth, whiskers, small little feet and tails, and tiny little ears. They live in an underground burrow with many rooms, including storerooms full of more food than they can ever eat. They even have a room for an inside toilet. Gophers are constantly rearranging their rooms. They are like underground bulldozers, closing off one room and building a tunnel to another new room. When their toilet gets full, they close it off too and build another toilet. Gophers are really very clean. They only go in their toilet.

Gopher Stash of Acorns

Food cache of acorns.

The only time the boy gopher wants to be near a girl gopher is when the she wants to mate. Usually, there is abundance of food and usually in the spring or the fall, but if there’s lots of food, they mate as much as they want. The boy gopher gets the urge and goes hunting the girl gophers. The girls stay in their burrows and wait to meet boy gophers. When the boy finds the girl, they make it together. Then he returns to his own burrow. If they should meet again, they would go for the nose and hang on. Is this love? Freaky.

The pregnant girl gopher has a lot to do. She fills her storerooms with fresh roots and green, juicy stems, which is why farmers kill gophers. Gophers eat roots and leaves and seeds and stems and can do extensive crop damage. So farmers trap them and poison them. Men are not the only enemies gophers have to worry about. Owls, foxes, skunks, and other animals will hunt the gopher while she (or he) is out gathering food. And snakes and weasels can come into her burrow and kill her or him when they are at home.

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