Plains Pocket Gopher, Geomys bursarius
One of thirty-five species of pocket gophers, the plains pocket gopher resides in the farming lands and grasslands of the Great Plains of North America, from Texas to Manitoba in Canada and even as far east as the west Indiana extremities. This range holds a recognized eight subspecies of pocket gophers. Although this gopher’s physical adaptations are minimal, it has adapted to life underground, and is the most fossorial rodent in North America.
The plains pocket gopher is black to brown in color, with a lighter shade of tan or brown on its underside. Its short tail is almost completely void of fur, as well as its tiny ears. These and other characteristics like small eyes, large forefeet, and an increased tolerance for low oxygen levels are fossorial adaptations. The female plains pocket gophers are smaller than the males weighing 4.5 to thirteen ounces, while the males weigh from 8.1 to 16.7 ounces. The length of the males can be anywhere from 9.8 to fourteen inches, while the females can have a length of up to thirteen inches.
The breeding habits of the plains pocket gopher cause it to mate only once a year, although if they are living in a warmer climate, they may mate twice. Depending on the latitude of where the gophers live, they will mate anywhere from January to September. The pregnancy of a female pocket gopher can last up to thirty days, although cases have been noted of pregnancies lasting up to fifty-one days. This may signify some type of delayed fertilization, implantation, or zygote development. Baby plains pocket gophers are born blind and hairless, weighing in at .18 ounces. At three weeks, their eyes will open and at five weeks, they will be weaned. Shortly after the weaning process the gophers will leave their mother’s burrow and make burrows of their own. They become full adults at approximately three months.
Plains pocket gophers tend to burrow in crumbly, sandy soil to accommodate their fossorial lifestyle and diet of plant roots. Although the local food source is important, the type of soil is more important to them, and they will live in farm lands, grasslands, and even in urban settings. One controlled long-term study found that plains pocket gophers will dig their new tunnels at a rate of 67.6 feet per week and that 98 to 160 feet of tunnels were open at any given time. The study also showed that, over a few hot weeks during summer, the gophers did not dig new tunnels at all. Their burrows include a food cache that consists of roots, tubers, and grasses, and nests lined with grasses. Predators of the plains pocket gopher include feral cats, foxes, badgers, hawks, and snakes.
The plains pocket gopher is a solitary and combative rodent, and will use its significantly increased sensitivity to vibrations in the soil to defend its life-style. They rarely enter burrows taken by other gophers, but will occasionally explore abandoned burrows. They will spend seventy-two percent of their time in their burrows, coming out only to find food or a mate, with the exception of newly weaned young leaving to make their own burrows.
The conservation status of the plains pocket gopher is of least concern due to the wide spread placement of the animal, its adaptation skills, stable population, and lack of extreme threats. Although farmers consider the plains pocket gopher to be a pest, they take active parts in soil aeration and diversity, and flood protection due to better drainage.
Image Caption: Plains Pocket Gopher (Geomys bursarius). Credit: Wikipedia