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Desert Diary
Mammals/Pocket Gopher


We've all seen the cartoons where old Farmer Brown desperately witnesses his beloved crops, such as carrots and other tasty vegetables, disappear into the earth with a sudden "ploop". He looks around and the evidence is obvious: conspicuous little mounds of dirt surround his farm. Angrily he goes out and buys traps, poison, and a shotgun to eradicate his farm of that oh-so-dreaded pest, the pocket gopher.

This little critter belongs to a group of the continent's most specialized mammalian burrowers, each individual digging up to 3 tons of soil per year to construct an extensive, complex, burrowing systems hundreds of feet long. Although considered a serious agricultural pest due to its crop-damaging potential, the pocket gopher's burrowing habit does have some positive outcomes. The burrows aerate and add organic material to the soil and collect runoff water from melting snow. In the long term, gopher activity may actually improve the productivity of pastureland. So old Farmer Brown may owe an apology to the little varmint; because it turns out he was just helping all along.
pen and ink

Contributor: Helen Brewer, Student, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Yellow-faced Pocket Gopher

A preserved specimen of the Yellow-faced Pocket Gopher (Cratogeomys castanops).



McKay, G. 1999. Mammals. Fog City Press, San Francisco.

Miller, M., and C. Nelson. 1996. Desert critters: Plants and animals of the Southwest. Johnson Books, Boulder. rule