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What's the difference between Gophers, Groundhogs and Prairie Dogs

Updated on May 11, 2012

Whats the difference?

I'm not much for insects and I'm really not much for rodents either. I must admit squirrels are cute, but would I really want one as a pet? No! I'm really a city girl at heart, so when we moved to the country, well I'm just not quite sure what to do with this other rodents that they have out here, or for that matter what the difference is.

So I've started a quest to figure out what the differences are between the gophers, groundhogs and prairie dogs. I'm sure there are lots of differences, but to me, they are currently all a nuisances! Consequently, I'm going to figure them out and share that information with my pals on squidoo. After all, if I'm trying to understand the differences, then I'm sure some of you are as well. So on with my quest and my little rodents!

Gophers

are really gophers, unless they're humans! Take a look!

Gophers

Gophers are the first ones on my quest. Other than being a ball of fluff, what else is there, right? Not to mention how incredibly cute they are, but what else do I know about them? Oh yea they eat fruits and veggies, but lets go deeper than that!

As I have come to find out, gopher is an umbrella term for several rodents that burrow, or use burrowing systems specifically within North America. Common titles for them are ground squirrels which also include prairie dogs, true gophers (pocket gophers). From these, there are over 100 different kinds of gophers in the United States.

Gophers tend to live not only in underground tunnels but love community living, unlike other rodents which are solitary animals. It is not uncommon that gophers will have thousands in their community. The entrance to gophers homes can often be seen because of large amounts of rocks and dirt mounds by their entrance.

Basically, they give themselves away as to where they're at. They are very protective and smart rodents, in that they will have one of the adults stand guard outside of their homes and communicate with a whistle if they find some threat coming near them. This threat can be human or animal by nature.

While they are cute and fuzzy, the problem with them is in their very nature, burrowing. Because they are burrowers, they can have communities that are extremely large, to the point that parks and entire meadows, parks and prairies can be impacted. What happens is they go underground and in order to get food, they eat different types of landscaping, agriculture, garden plots and yes even underground cables.

As you might imagine this is why they are considered pest and agricultural business, in the billions yearly, and as a result, the agricultural business exterminate them.

I still think they're cute.

Is A Ground Hog...

Really a hog that's on the ground? Nope.

Equal time for rodents and things that eliminates them

Ground Hogs

Next are groundhogs? Aren’t they hogs that are on the ground? No they’re not. Much to my surprise, they are also considered to be woodchucks, land-beavers (did you know there was such a thing?), and whistle-pig. They are actually considered to belong a group of “large” ground squirrels, called marmots!

This group is subdivided into two other groups called hoary marmots and yellow-bellied. Here’s where it gets really interesting. Each of these groups live in completely different places. The yellow-bellied and hoary marmots make their homes in rocky areas, as well as the mountains. The woodchucks chose to live in a completely different region, in lowlands. And groundhogs chose to live anywhere from Alabama to Alaska, versatile critters that they are!

While we’re talking about groundhogs, you need to know that they can be dangerous. They have arms and legs that are thick and curved, with thick claws, and can do damage to a human. Understand though, that they need this because they love to dig. They don’t intend, nor do they want to hurt you, but if back in a corner, they are equipped to take care of themselves.

It’s import to know that they love to dig. If you were to see one, you’d notice that they also have a curved spine and are grey in color. There is a vast difference in how long they live in the wild verses captivity. The difference, 9-14 years in captivity and a short 6 years in the wild, with most of them dying within 2 or 3 years!

Outside of man, who likes to kill them? Most common of all are hawks, dogs, foxes, bobcats, wolves, coyotes, snakes and bears. Like gophers, they love to eat agriculture and fruits, but unlike the gopher, they also love to eat some insects like grasshoppers and snails as well as nuts and get water from leafy plants. Much more than the gopher, they blend other rodents behaviors together.

Are Prairie Dogs

Really Dogs? Nope.

Prairie Dogs

Lastly are prairie dogs. Dogs that roam the prairie, okay maybe not. Perhaps the most interesting trait that comes with the prairie dogs is why they’re called that if they are really considered to be of the ground squirrel family. Glad you asked! The reason for their name being what it is, is because when they are in danger they sound like a barking dog!

Like the other two (gophers and groundhogs), prairie dogs are also burrowing rodents. They are considered to be a type of ground squirrel, with 5 different types of prairie dogs: black-tailed, Gunnison’s, Mexican prairie dogs, Utah and lastly the white-tailed. They love to live in the grassy areas of the United States (primarily west of the Mississippi, Mexico and Canada.

The love to live from 2,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level. Which is good news for those farms and people that live at lower elevations. Their habitat gets narrowed even further because they are selective in temperatures. The don’t like it below -35 degrees (Alaska’s out) in the winter, and they don’t like it above 100 in the summer.

It’s ironic that they don’t mind living in areas which would include things like floods, blizzards, hailstorms and other “wild” weather during the winter. While in summer, they don’t care if there’s fires and droughts. It’s believed that the reason for this is because they will hide by burrowing underground. They are architects in that they will make tunnels to allow them to control where rainwater and runoff goes.

How far do they go below ground? Between 6-10 feet. This answer the question of why they aren’t concerned as to floods or fires! They are way far underground to be impacted by them. Furthermore, they will create up to 6 entrances with diversity in them as well. When they create an entrance, sometimes it’s flat, and other times they’re mounds of dirt.

Like groundhogs, they don’t have a problem eating insects. But they are like both the groundhog and the gopher in that they will eat vegetables and fruit. Where the groundhog tends to get its water from plants, the prairie dog will tend to drink from the snow runoff and fruits.

Kill the rodents!

Kill the rodents!

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There you have it!

So there you have it! Did you learn something about each of these? While I still can't claim to be a fan, at least I have enriched myself a little about each of them, and now can appreciate them more. Don't get me wrong, I still don't care about having them eating my vegetables and fruit. I still don't care if someone fumigates them or asphyxiates them. But then again, if they're not on my land, and I'm not on theirs, it's really not an issue.

Should you care to want to eliminate them natural, you can find something like PERC (Pressurized Exhaust Rodent Controller) that is poison free and wont leave rodents dead above ground, where they can harm other animals and children.

What's your experience with gophers, groundhogs, and prairie dogs?

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