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Is It a Salamander or Pocket Gopher?

Mounds of sand made my pocket gopher along roadside. Photo Credit: Larry Williams

Mounds of sand made my pocket gopher along roadside. Photo Credit: Larry Williams

Pocket gopher is a furry animal known by many locals as “sandy mounder.” It was given this name because of the sandy mounds of excavated earth that the gopher pushes out of its underground burrows. The name sandy mounder, with time, became “salamander.” This animal is not a salamander at all. Salamanders are slimy amphibians shaped like lizards. Salamanders are often known as “spring lizards” in Florida.

To make this nomenclature problem more confusing, in some areas of Florida gopher means a certain burrowing tortoise – the gopher tortoise.

To simplify things keep in mind that in Florida “spring lizard” can mean “salamander” and “salamander” can mean “gopher” and “gopher” can mean “turtle.”

“Gopher” is a confusing word all over the country. Jeff Jackson, retired wildlife biologist with University of Georgia Extension says, “The Richardson’s ground squirrel of the west is called gopher. So is the thirteen lined ground squirrel of the Great Plains and Midwest. Moles are called gophers in many areas. And voles (certain short-tailed mice) are called gophers in some states.”

Jackson says there are six species of “sure enough, genuine pocket gophers in the United States.” Our pocket gopher is the Southeastern Pocket Gopher, found in north Florida, south Alabama and south Georgia.

The pocket gopher spends its time underground making tunnels and nests, eating roots and bearing and raising young. It may venture into residential areas where it can damage plants by feeding on tree and shrub roots or bulbs and tubers of various plants.

A pocket gopher can make fifty or more sandy mounds in a relatively short period of time. These mounds, which are normally four to six inches high and possibly a foot across, are what get homeowners’ attention. The mounds can “popup” overnight in lines or rows. They resemble fire ant mounds; however, they contain no ants.

The pocket gopher is a rodent that grows to about a foot long, has a short tail and weighs about half a pound. Its name comes from the large fur-lined pouches on the outside of its cheeks.

Even though they do contribute to the formation of soil and provide a food source for some predators, sometimes their damage may justify control measures.

Trapping is the most effective option. No chemical repellents are known to be effective. It’s illegal to use any poison to kill gophers. Vibrating devices have not been proven to repel gophers. A long held belief that Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum kills gophers by blocking their digestive system has been proven to be false.

A detailed fact sheet is available online at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw285.

 

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