There are five
species of gophers, or "pocket gophers"
as they are more correctly called, that occur
in California, however the most likely to be encountered
in Los Angeles County is the Valley or Botta's
pocket gopher (Thomomys bottae ).
Pocket gophers are a small rodent about 5 to 7
inches long not including the tail. They come
in a variety of colors but are most often greyish
brown to brown. They have a very short tail, tiny
ears and eyes, and huge, yellowish front teeth
(incisors) which are always exposed. They also
have large, curved front claws used for digging.
image for larger view
How Do I Know if
I Have Gophers?
Since gophers spend most of their time underground,
they are hardly ever seen so the best identification
method is to examine the dirt mounds
that almost always accompany their activity. As they
dig their tunnels, pocket gophers periodically shove
dirt out to the surface forming mounds. The dirt is
pushed to the surface from tunnels that are at an angle
to the surface, so the mounds form in a crescent or
horseshoe shape. This helps distinguish them from mounds
made by moles which are volcano shaped. Pocket gopher
burrows are almost always plugged. This helps to distinguish
them from other burrowing rodents like ground squirrels
or meadow mice. On average, a gopher makes about 1 to
3 mounds per day
Although gophers can be serious agricultural pests,
in Los Angeles County most of the damage they cause
is to landscaping and turf. They feed on many varieties
of ornamental plants, and the mounds they make can be
unsightly, damaging to turf, and even pose a quite real
trip hazard on athletic fields.
The most effective control methods for gophers are trapping,
poison baits and burrow fumigants. Trapping and baiting
are options that an ordinary property owner can use
successfully. Burrow fumigants can be very effective
but are restricted materials, generally only available
to and used by professionals. Burrow fumigants are not
the same as the commonly available "smoke bombs"
which are not very effective. It is illegal in California
to use carbon monoxide from car exhaust or other sources
to kill animals.
Traps and poison baits can be purchased
at almost any hardware store or home garden center and
usually come with fairly complete instructions for their
use. The key to successfully using traps or baits is
accurate location of the main tunnel. Most people find
it "by feel" using some sort of homemade tool
or probe. Remember, poison baits can pose a risk to
pets and wildlife if used improperly-FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS
VERY CAREFULLY. Homemade concoctions used to kill gophers
or any other mammal are potentially dangerous and probably
illegal. Don't use them!
What about flooding?
Outside of agricultural settings where a large amount
of water can be put on an area in a short period of
time and left standing for an extended period of time,
this control method has very little practical value
for residential uses. The old "garden hose down
the hole" method tried by almost everyone who has
ever attempted to control gophers rarely works and is
usually a waste of water and time.
There are no repellents or scaring
devices available at the present time that have been
proven to protect lawns or other planting sites from
pocket gophers. Several plants, such as gopher purge
(Euphorbia lathyrus) and castor bean ( Ricinus communis),
have been purported to offer protection from ravenous
gophers, but these claims have never been proven.
Trying to keep gophers out of your
yard or garden by using physical barriers can sometimes
be effective if done on a small scale. Any large project,
such as placing fencing around the perimeter of your
backyard would be cost prohibitive and would at best
only provide short term control. Raised flower beds
can be protected by placing a layer of 1/4 inch galvanized
hardware cloth under the bed and securing it to the
2x6 wood frame before filling with soil. In reforestation
or orchard situations, a "cage" of hardware
cloth lining the hole and extending six inches aboveground
can give a young tree room to establish a good root
system before being exposed to gopher damage.
Six to eight inches of gravel 1
inch or more in diameter around underground utility
cables or sprinkler lines may discourage gnawing by
Pocket gophers are classified by the California Department
of Fish and Game as a nongame mammal. If they are causing
damage, they are allowed to be taken using gopher traps
and poison bait by the owner or tenant of the property
or their employees. Any poison bait used must be registered
for use in California.
For more detailed information on gopher control, contact
the office of the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner/Weights
& Measures Department, Pest Management Division
at (626) 575-5462 and request a copy of the PEST INFORMATION
SERIES on Pocket Gophers. That
document can also be down loaded in PDF format by clicking