Fresh sandy mounds be be an indicator of pocket gopher tunneling activity.

Sandy-mounders Mounding

On the sixth day of winter,
a dear friend gave to me,
sandy mounds of soil.

What’s making these HUGE piles of dirt? They seem to ‘show up’ overnight.

Turns out the ‘culprit’ is an ecological engineer. Pushing soils out of underground tunnels result in large sandy mounds. Fresh mounds of soil measure 4-6 inches tall and twelve inches or more in diameter. In the fall and early spring, characteristic meandering rows of mounds seem to appear overnight. Sarah Duncan, post-doc at University of Florida made video available of the rarely seen Geomys pinetis or southeastern pocket gopher.

“…part of our research is to understand the genetics of the southeastern pocket gopher. The southeastern pocket gopher is thought to be declining across its range and is currently listed as threatened in Georgia. We are collecting tissue samples to study the genetic health and connectivity of pocket gopher populations in order to assist with conservation management strategies for the species.”   S. Duncan

In polite conversation they are called sandy-mounder or salamander. Unlike salamanders (amphibians with moist skins), the pocket gopher is a mammal with hairless tail. The opposite end boasts chisel shaped protruding front teeth. Large fore-limbs with ginormous claws are the stuff of dreams.  As pocket gophers tunnel, soil is mixed and loosened, improving pore space for air and water. Tunnels run two inches to two feet below surface. Food cache and nest sites may extend downward five feet.

Do you have deep, well-drained sandy soils?

Sandy soils encourage pocket gopher activity. Pocket gopher are herbivores, feeding on roots, stems, bulbs and so forth. Tunnels extend more than 150 feet. Except when caring for young, pocket gopher tend to be solitary.

Unsightly sandy mounds are messing up my yard. How do get rid of pocket gophers?

Trapping is one option. Mounds of fresh sand provide a hint as to tunnel location. Probe between two fresh mounds for best chances of locating the tunnel.  Attach macabee trap with wire or twine to above ground stake.  Dr. Terry Salmon, University of California, San Diego illustrates macabee trap placement.

Choker traps are another option. One may need to bop the pocket gopher on the head, to finish him off, if trap does not kill quickly. Adult pocket gopher measure ten inches from tip of nose to tail tip ( William H. Kern, Jr., Oct. 2013 ). The tail alone may be three inches in length.

Baits are effective. Use products registered for use in Florida, on southeastern pocket gopher.  Follow label recommendations.

Natural predators include owls, hawks, coyote and pine snake. Domestic cats and dogs could catch them as well. Female pocket gopher have one or two litters per year with one to three young per litter.

Galvanized hardware cloth, buried at least 2 feet and extending 6 inches above ground is effective, restricting a majority of pocket gophers. Vibrating devices and chemical repellents have not been proven effective. Flooding tunnels with water is ineffective in sandy well drained soils.

Fresh sandy mounds seemingly appear overnight.

Mounds of fresh soil contrasts with existing soil.

BENEFITS; many species coexist with pocket gopher. Mole skinks, camel crickets and scarab beetles (Gabriel J. Miller, Steve A. Johnson, and Lora L. Smith, June 2017) are a few. Tunnels serve as habitat for several unique species. Mounds of soil provide germination sites for native seed.

Duncan encourages participation in iNaturalist pocket gopher project. The information is used to model species distribution and learn more about factors that are important for their survival.

Share nature’s engineer on facebook, twitter or email. Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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