gopher or pocket gopher, name for the burrowing rodents of the family Geomyidae, found in North America and Central America. The gopher is gray, buff, or dark brown. Its combined head and body length is 5 to 12 in. (13–30 cm) depending on the species; its tail is short. The name pocket gopher refers to the fur-lined pouches that open on the outside of its cheeks and are used for carrying food and nesting material. The gopher has extremely long upper and lower teeth, which are always exposed, and broad forepaws armed with enormous claws; it uses its teeth as picks and its forepaws as shovels as it tunnels through the ground. Because gophers do not hibernate, they must accumulate stores of food for the winter. They live and do most of their foraging underground, feeding chiefly on roots and tubers. Except for brief pairing during the mating season, gophers are solitary—a single animal occupies each tunnel system. Although their extensive, ramifying tunnels sometimes damage earth dams and banks, gophers are of some value as agents of soil aeration and in forming humus by burying organic matter. Eastern pocket gophers, species of the genus Geomys, are found in the United States from the Rocky Mts. to the Mississippi valley and on the Gulf Coast. Western pocket gophers, species of Thomomys, are found from the Rocky Mts. to the Pacific and from S Canada to the Mexican border. The Mexican pocket gopher, Cratogeomys castanops, ranges from the SW United States to central Mexico. Other genera are found in Mexico and Central America. The name gopher is also applied to the ground squirrel in some regions. Gophers are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Rodentia, family Geomyidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.