Monday, December 10, 2012

Species Profile: The Mazama Pocket Gopher

Posted by F. T. Waterstrat, USFWS

Western Washington State is home to a shrinking prairie landscape and the animals that depend on it are in trouble. Learn about the life and times of one of the newest species proposed for protection under the Endangered Species Act and about an amazing animal that our biologists are committed to conserving:

The Mazama Pocket Gopher (Thomomys mazama)

Thōmos (Greek): heap, from the heaps of earth thrown out along the burrows + mys: mouse-like;
mazama: (Native American) A former volcano (now Crater Lake) in Oregon where the species was first described in 1897

The inner lips keep out dirt while the gopher digs.
Photo Credit: Kim Flotlin, USFWS

Washington’s Mazama Pocket Gophers are busy burrowing rodents that live under our feet in the prairie soils of Western Washington. The word “pocket” in “pocket gopher” is not a description of their size, but rather refers to the pocket-like pouches in their cheeks that they stuff full of food and nesting material. These fur-lined pouches can be turned inside out and emptied, like you would your pants pockets.  Not only do these 6 -9 inch diggers create tunnels to store food (forbs, grasses, fleshy roots and bulbs), but they also dig deep tunnels with chambers that act as nurseries for their young, pantries, and latrines.  The shallower tunnels are used mainly for foraging as they scurry and burrow under the soil.