Scott Rall: Gophers seen as pests, but they serve a purpose

Scott Rall

So who has never seen a thirteen-lined gopher?

They are better known as the striped gopher. I can remember as a little kid spending time on my gramps’ farm in Leola, S.D., that there was actually a bounty on these little mammals. We would drive around in cattle pastures and all of the grandkids would take turns shooting at them from the back of the pickup box.

My mom’s brother Jerry, was the youngest uncle we had and he was the most likely to take us, so we thought he was pretty cool at the time. We cut off the tails and threaded them on to a needle that was poked in the window frame of the garage. They were worth 10 cents each.

The days of overpopulation of gophers in Leola is long gone. There was some sort of disease that wiped almost all of them out 20 years ago.

They still exist all over the Midwest but not near the numbers they used to. They are considered a species of least concern, so they must still be doing pretty good.


I remember moving to Worthington in 1973 and in southwest Minnesota there were almost no gophers at all. This remains pretty much the same today, as they best thrive in pasture environments, and southwest Minnesota no longer has many pasture acres.

They are, on the surface, just a pest to most people. Many are shot on sight, but I did learn some interesting facts about this little digger.

They are diurnal. That means they only come out during daylight hours and have no nocturnal roaming. They dig burrows 10-15 feet in length but they are almost all within two feet of the surface.

They dig one hibernation burrow down to about 15 feet. They will also dig other short burrows to hide in and escape predators. They have a home range of about two acres.

They eat primarily seeds and vegetation but will also eat crickets, mice, caterpillars and grasshoppers.

They often get a bad rap they often deserve when they start eating the contents of people’s gardens. They put on a fat layer during the summer months. They are known to sit upright to extend their sight picture and can scurry to their holes at 8 miles per hour when threatened.

I have a family of gophers that live in the mowed areas of my Outpost. One thing I cannot figure out is how they dig a hole and leave no soli on the surface. They have a burrow with no dirt at the entrance. Do they carry it away? Where does this removed soil go?

I don’t shoot these little creatures as they are nature’s dinner for hawks and other birds of prey. With a good supply of small mammals, the hawks will do less damage to the pheasant population. Gophers fill a needed niche in the ecosystem.


One very cool thing about this little animal is that they normally take between 100-200 breaths per minute. When they hibernate, they take only one breath every five minutes. How cool is that?

The young ones are out and about now and I had one pop up in a hole about five feet from where I was sitting on my ranger. He/she was so clueless to the possible danger, and it hung around for several minutes before its foraging efforts led it away.

Raider. my youngest Labrador, has a thing for gophers. He will run from hole to hole smelling for the most recent scent and then stand over the hole pointing it.

He will stand there for 30 minutes if I let him. One day I was working on a project, and while I was distracted, Raider dug a hole about 12 inches deep and the same circumference thinking he was actually going to catch that gopher. I have never had a dog do this.

If you ever stop and think about how all of God’s creatures interact with each other all over this planet, it is truly amazing. The lowly gopher gets little respect but they too have survived for thousands of years and done just fine.

I wonder if the human race will ever be able to fare as well.

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