The Mazama Pocket Gopher (Thomomys mazama)
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.
Gophers are an important part of a working prairie ecosystem. An average pocket gopher can turn over one ton of soil each year, bringing vegetation and waste into the soil to act as fertilizer, aerating the soil, decreasing soil compaction, and creating new planting beds for seeds to grow, which increases native plant diversity. One of the reasons they can move so much dirt is that they don’t hibernate in the winter, but keep on tunneling and foraging under and in the snow. Gophers are also an important food source for many mammals, large birds, and snakes. In addition, their unoccupied burrows provide a cool, moist refuge for animals such as salamanders, toads, and other creatures when topside conditions are hostile.
South Puget Sound PrairiesPhoto Credit: Sarah Coven, WDFW
If you are interested in learning more about the Mazama pocket gopher, please visit these sites:
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