University of California

Ecology of pocket gophers with emphasis on Thomomys bottae mewa


Walter E. Howard
Henry E. Childs

Authors Affiliations

Walter E. Howard was Specialist, Field Station Administration, University of California, Davis; Henry E. Childs, Jr. was Instructor, Life Science Department, Cerritos College, Norwalk, California.

Publication Information

Hilgardia 29(7):277-358. DOI:10.3733/hilg.v29n07p277. November 1959.

PDF of full article, Cite this article


The life history and ecology of the Digger pine pocket gopher (Thomomys bottae mewa) are here reported. Most of the data were obtained by live-trapping for five years 330 marked individuals 1,798 times on a 3.7-acre study plot at the San Joaquin Experimental Range, O’Neals, California. In all, more than 1,000 gophers were studied, many of which were maintained in various types of laboratory cages.

Body weight is not a reliable indication of age since males continue to grow throughout their life and the alimentary tract of seven gophers averaged one fifth of their gross body weight.

Males do not live as long as females, which often live for three or four years.

Gophers apparently are frequently polygamous. The adult sex ratio of males to females varied from about 1:1 to 1:4. Females predominated (1:4) when the population density was high.

The home range of a pocket gopher is also its “territory,” for adults vigorously defend their entire burrow system from others of both sexes, except during the breeding season. Male territories occupied an average surface area of 2,200 square feet, whereas females only one half that, or 1,300 square feet.

Young gophers often left home by dispersing aboveground. More than 200 were captured in funnel traps on the ground surface along hardware-cloth drift fences. Gophers released 200 or more feet from their burrow were able to return home by traveling through existing burrow systems.

The ecological factors responsible for creating fluctuations in the density of gophers are discussed. Also discussed are the signifiance of pocket gophers with respect to animal associates, soil and forage relationships, effect of burrows, and importance to man.

Literature Cited

Allee W. C., Emerson A. E., Park O., Park T., Schmidt K. P. Principles of animal ecology. 1949. W. B. Saunders Co. 837p.

Andrewartha H. G., Birch L. C. The distribution and abundance of animals. 1954. University of Chicago Press. 782p.

Arkley R. J., Brown H. C. The origin of mima mound (hogwallow) microrelief in the far western states. Soil Sci. Soc. Amer. Proc. 1954. 18:195-99. DOI: 10.2136/sssaj1954.03615995001800020021x [CrossRef]

Bentley J. R., Talbot M. W. Annual plant vegetation of the California foothills as related to range management. Ecology. 1948. 29:72-79. DOI: 10.2307/1930345 [CrossRef]

Bentley J. R., Talbot M. W. Efficient use of annual plants on cattle ranges in the California foothills. U.S. Dept. Agr. Cir. 1951. 870:52

Blair W. F. Techniques for the study of mammal populations. Jour. Mammal. 1941. 22:148-57. DOI: 10.2307/1374909 [CrossRef]

Bond R. M. Range rodents and plant succession 1945. pp.229-34. Trans. 10th North Amer. Wildlife Conf.

Bryant H. C. Nocturnal wanderings of the California pocket gopher. University California Publ. Zool. 1913. 12:25-29.

Buechner H. K. Interrelationships between the pocket gopher and land use. Jour. Mammal. 1942. 23:346-48.

Childs H. E. Jr., Howard W. E. The vertebrate fauna of San Joaquin Experimental Range. California Forest and Range Exp. Sta., Misc. Paper No. 1955. 19:20

Chitty D. Mortality among voles (Microtus agrestis) at Lake Vyrnevy, Montgomeryshire in 1936-9. Roy. Soc. London Phil. Trans. 1952. 236(B 638):505-52. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.1952.0009 [CrossRef]

Cragg J. B., Pirie N. W. Adverse effects of population density upon the viability of later generations. The numbers of man and animals. 1955. Edinburgh, Scotland: Oliver and Boyd Ltd. for the Inst, of Biology. p. 57-67. Ed. by 152

Clarke J. R. Influence of numbers on reproduction and survival in two experimental vole populations. Royal Soc. Proc. Ser. B. 1955. 144:68-85. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.1955.0034 [CrossRef]

Cook J. B. Pocket gophers spread Canada thistle. California Dept. Agr. Bul. 1939. 28:142-43.

Crouch W. E. Pocket gopher control. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Bul. 1942. 23:20

Dalquest W. W., Scheffer V. B. The origin of the mima mounds of western Washington. Jour. Geol. 1942. 50:68-84. DOI: 10.1086/625026 [CrossRef]

Day A. M. Soil erosion is often caused by burrowing rodents 1931. pp.481-84. U.S. Dept. Agr. Yearbook 1931

Dice L. R. Natural communities. 1952. University Michigan Press. 547p.

Dice L. R., Howard W. E. Distance of dispersal by prairie deermice from birth places to breeding sites. University Michigan Contrib. Lab. Vert. Biol. No. 1951. 50:15

Dice L. R., Leraas H. J. A graphic method for comparing several sets of measurements. University Michigan Contrib. Lab. Vert. Genetics No. 1936. 3:3

Ellison L. The pocket gopher in relation to soil erosion on mountain range. Ecology. 1946. 27:101-14. DOI: 10.2307/1932505 [CrossRef]

Ellison L. Subalpine vegetation of the Wasatch Plateau. Utah, Ecological Monographs. 1954. 24:89-184. DOI: 10.2307/1948619 [CrossRef]

Emlen J. T. Jr. Device for holding live wild rats. Jour. Wildlife Mangt. 1944. 8:264-65.

English P. F. Some habits of the pocket gopher, Geomys breviceps breviceps. Jour. Mammal. 1932. 13:126-32. DOI: 10.2307/1374048 [CrossRef]

Errington P. L. Predation and vertebrate populations. Quart. Rev. Biol. 1946. 21:144-77. 221-45. DOI: 10.1086/395220 [CrossRef]

Evans F. C. Ecosystem as the basic unit in ecology. Science. 1956. 123(3208):1127-28. DOI: 10.1126/science.123.3208.1127 [CrossRef]

Farner D. S. Age groups and longevity in the American robin. Wilson Bul. 1945. 57:56-74.

Fitch H. S. Some observations on horned owl nests. Condor. 1940. 42:73-75. DOI: 10.2307/1364321 [CrossRef]

Fitch H. S. Predation by owls in the Sierra foothills of California. Condor. 1947. 49:137-51. DOI: 10.2307/1364108 [CrossRef]

Fitch H. S. A study of coyote relationships on cattle range. Jour. Wildlife Mangt. 1948. 12:73-78.

Fitch H. S. Study of snake populations in central California. Amer. Midland Nat. 1949. 41:513-79. DOI: 10.2307/2421774 [CrossRef]

Fitch H. S., Bentley J. R. Use of California annual-plant forage by range rodents. Ecology. 1949. 30:306-21. DOI: 10.2307/1932612 [CrossRef]

Fitch H. S., Swenson F., Tillotson D. F. Behavior and food habits of the red-tailed hawk. Condor. 1946. 48:205-37. DOI: 10.2307/1363939 [CrossRef]

Fitch H. S., Twining H. Feeding habits of the Pacific rattlesnakes. Copeia. 1946. 2:64-71. DOI: 10.2307/1437836 [CrossRef]

Garlough F. E. Research studies in the control of destructive mammals 1937. pp.303-10. Trans. 2d North Amer. Wildlife Conf., pp

Godfrey G. K. Observations on the nature of the decline in numbers of two Microtus populations. Jour. Mammal. 1955. 36:209-14. DOI: 10.2307/1375878 [CrossRef]

Grinnell J. The burrowing rodents of California as agents in soil formation. Jour. Mammal. 1923. 4:137-49. DOI: 10.2307/1373562 [CrossRef]

Grinnell J. Review of the recent mammal fauna of California. University California Publ. in Zool. 1933. 40(2):71-234.

Gunther W. C. Studies on the male reproductive system of the California pocket gopher (Thomomys bottae navus Merriam). Amer. Midland Nat. 1956. 55:1-40. DOI: 10.2307/2422320 [CrossRef]

Hill J. E. Morphology of the pocket gopher mammalian genus Thomomys. University of California Publ. Zool. 1937. 42:81-171.

Hisaw F. L. The absorption of the pubic symphysis of the pocket gopher, Geomys bursarius (Shaw). Amer. Nat. 1924. 58:93-96. DOI: 10.1086/279962 [CrossRef]

Hisaw F. L. The influence of the ovary on the resorption of the pubic bones of the pocket gopher, Geomys bursarius (Shaw). Jour. Expt. Zool. 1925. 42:411-33. DOI: 10.1002/jez.1400420403 [CrossRef]

Holliger C. D. Anatomical adaptations in the thoracic limb of the California pocket gopher and other rodents. University California Publ. Zool. 1916. 13:447-94.

Hooper E. T. Type localities of pocket gophers of the genus Thomomys. University Michigan Mus. Zool. Misc. Publ. No. 1941. 52:26

Howard W. E. Dispersal, amount of inbreeding and longevity in a local population of prairie deermice on the George Reserve, southern Michigan. University Michigan Contrib. Lab. Vert. Biol. No. 1949. 43:52

Howard W. E. Relation between low temperature and available food to survival of small rodents. Jour. Mammal. 1951. 32:300-12. DOI: 10.2307/1375662 [CrossRef]

Howard W. E. A live trap for pocket gophers. Jour. Mammal. 1952. 33:61-65. DOI: 10.2307/1375641 [CrossRef]

Howard W. E. Tests of pocket gophers gnawing electric cables. Jour. Wildlife Mangt. 1953a. 17:296-300.

Howard W. E. Growth rate of nails on adult pocket gophers. Jour. Mammal. 1953b. 34:394-96.

Howard W. E. Rodent control on California ranges. Jour. Range Mangt. 1953c. 6:423-34. DOI: 10.2307/3893770 [CrossRef]

Howard W. E., Ingles L. G. Outline for an ecological life history of pocket gophers and other fossorial mammals. Ecology. 1951. 32:537-44. DOI: 10.2307/1931730 [CrossRef]

Howard W. E., Smith M. E. Rate of extrusive growth of incisors of pocket gophers. Jour. Mammal. 1952. 33:485-87. DOI: 10.2307/1375641 [CrossRef]

Howell A. B. Surface wanderings of fossorial mammals. Jour. Mammal. 1922. 3:19-22. DOI: 10.2307/1373447 [CrossRef]

Hutchison C. B., Kotok E. I. The San Joaquin Experimental Range. California Agr. Exp. Sta. Bul. 1942. 663:145 https://archive.org/details/sanjoaquinexperi663hutc

Imler R. H. Bullsnakes and their control on a Nebraska wildlife refuge. Jour. Wildlife Mangt. 1945. 9:265-73.

Ingles L. G. The ecology of the mountain pocket gopher, Thomomys monticola. Ecology. 1952. 33(1):87-95.

Kelly A. O. The mima mounds. Sci. Monthly. 1948. 66:174-75.

Lack D. The natural regulation of animal numbers. 1954. Oxford at Clarendon Press. 343p.

Merriam C. H. Monographic revision of the pocket gophers, family geomyidae, exclusive of the species of Thomomys. North Amer. Fauna No. 1906. 8:262

Miller M. A. Reproductive rates and cycles in the pocket gopher. Jour. Mammal. 1946. 27:335-58. DOI: 10.2307/1375341 [CrossRef]

Miller M. A. Size characteristics of the Sacramento Valley pocket gopher (Thomomys bottae navus Merriam). Jour. Mammal. 1952. 33:442-56. DOI: 10.2307/1376016 [CrossRef]

Miller M. A. Experimental studies on poisoning pocket gophers. Hilgardia. 1953. 22(4):131-66. DOI: 10.3733/hilg.v22n04p131 [CrossRef]

Miller M. A. Burrows of the Sacramento Valley pocket gopher in flood-irrigated alfalfa fields. Hilgardia. 1957. 26(8):431-52. DOI: 10.3733/hilg.v26n08p431 [CrossRef]

Moore A. W., Reid E. H. The Dalles pocket gopher and its influence on forage production of Oregon mountain meadows. U. S. Dept. Agr. Cir. 1951. 884:36

Morejohn G. V., Howard W. E. Molt in pocket gopher, Thomomys bottae. Jour Mammal. 1956. 37:201-13. DOI: 10.2307/1376679 [CrossRef]

Odum E. P. Fundamentals of ecology. 1953. W. B. Saunders Co. 384p.

Price W. A. Pocket gophers as architects of mima (pimple) mounds of the western United States. Texas Jour. Sci. 1949. 1:1-17.

Sagal Bernice E. Natural history of the pocket gopher, Thomomys bottae, of Alameda County, California. 1942. Berkeley: University California Library. 92p. Thesis (M.A.)

Scheffer T. H. Burrow associations of small mammals. Murrelet. 1945. 26:24-26. DOI: 10.2307/3535004 [CrossRef]

Scheffer T. H. Concerning the pocket gopher in mole range. Wash. Agr. Exp. Sta. Cir. 1954. 242:4

Scheffer V. B. The mystery of the mima mounds. Sci. Monthly. 1947. 65:283-94.

Smith Alfred. Daily and seasonal air and soil temperatures at Davis, California. Hilgardia. 1929. 4(3):77-112. DOI: 10.3733/hilg.v04n03p077 [CrossRef]

Solomon M. E. The natural control of animal populations. Jour. Anim. Ecology. 1949. 18:1-35. DOI: 10.2307/1578 [CrossRef]

Storer T. I. Controlling field rodents in California. California Agr. Exp. Sta. Cir. 1953. 434:47 http://archive.org/details/controllingfield434stor

Talbot M. W., Biswell H. H. The forage crop and its management. California Agr. Exp. Sta. Bul. 1942. 663:13-49.

Talbot M. W., Nelson J. W., Storie R. E. The experimental area. California Agr. Exp. Sta. Bul. 1942. 663:7-12.

Taylor W. P. Some animal relations to soils. Ecology. 1935. 16:127-36. DOI: 10.2307/1932420 [CrossRef]

Tevis L. Jr. Observations on chipmunks and mantled squirrels in northeastern California. Amer. Midi. Nat. 1955. 53:71-78. DOI: 10.2307/2422299 [CrossRef]

Tryon C. A. Jr. The biology of the pocket gopher, Thomomys talpoides in Montana. Montana State Coll. Agr. Exp. Sta. Tech. Bul. 1947. 448:1-30.

Wight H. M. Breeding habits and economic relations of the Dalles pocket gopher. Jour. Mammal. 1930. 11:40-48. DOI: 10.2307/1373783 [CrossRef]

Howard W, Childs H. 1959. Ecology of pocket gophers with emphasis on Thomomys bottae mewa. Hilgardia 29(7):277-358. DOI:10.3733/hilg.v29n07p277
Webmaster Email: wsuckow@ucanr.edu