Thomomys talpoides
(Northern Pocket Gopher)

Order: Rodentia
Order Description:Rodents
Family: Geomyidae
Family Description: Pocket Gophers

The northern pocket gopher is nearly ground squirrel size (total length 6 ½ to just over 9 inches (165-235 mm), it weighs 2 ¾ to 4 5/8 ounces (78-130 g). Like all pocket gophers, they have a tube-shaped body, very small eyes and ears, short and smooth fur that is brownish to tan, and a short tail. Long front claws accommodate efficient digging and its large external, fur-lined pouches are for carrying food. There are dark patches behind their ears.

This pocket gopher is the most widely distributed species in Idaho. It ranges from Alberta and Saskatchewan, south to northern Arizona and New Mexico, and from Washington east to northwestern Minnesota, including most of Idaho.

They prefer deep soils along streams and in meadows and cultivated fields, but is also found in rocky soils and clay, in brushy areas or along roadsides, and in alpine tundra.

Eats roots of forbsClick word for definition, cacti, and grasses.

They are active throughout the year and they do not hibernateClick word for definition but may be inactive in winter and midsummer for brief periods. Their daily activity peaks at dawn and dusk. Most burrowing activity occurs in spring and fall when soil is loose. Food is often carried in cheek pouches and stored in underground chambers, or in or under snow. They may feed in vegetable gardens, grainfields, and orchards, causing damage to crops. They are primarily solitary, home range may occupy over 400 to 530 ft2 (125-170 m2). Population density varies widely with the quality of habitat. Pocket gophers are ecologically important as prey items, they are fed on by coyotes, grizzly bears and great gray owls. They are also ecologically important in influencing soils with their burrowing activity and allowing greater moisture absorption by the soil. This influences plant distribution and helps create greater habitat heterogeneityClick word for definition, and greater diversityClick word for definition of plant species. This species may help reduce erosion as a result of their tunneling, but may also become nuisances and conflict with agriculture and forestry.

Females only breed once a year (monoestrusClick word for definition). Mating usually occurs from March to mid-June, depending on weather and latitude. A female produces a litterClick word for definition of 4 to 7 young after a GestationClick word for definition period of 19 to 20 days. Young disperse from the natalClick word for definition burrow at about 2 months.

Status: Unprotected nongame species

Global Rank:


State Rank:


Important State References:
Kuck. L. 1969. The effects of the northern pocket gopher on reforestation: activity and movement. M.S. Thesis, Univ. Idaho, Moscow. 51pp.

Information written by Donald Streubel,© 2000
Photo from Yellowstone- National Park Service, Sept 1998.
Map image provided by
Stephen Burton, 2000
Design by Ean Harker 1999, 2000, 2001.