Front Cover
 Damage control
 Machine baiting

Title: Florida pocket gopher (salamander)
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00084316/00001
 Material Information
Title: Florida pocket gopher (salamander)
Series Title: Florida pocket gopher (salamander)
Physical Description: Book
Creator: Madsen, Carl R.
Publisher: Florida Agricultural Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
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Bibliographic ID: UF00084316
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 81055606

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
    Damage control
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
    Machine baiting
        Page 11
        Page 12
Full Text



Florida Agricultural Extension Service Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida, Gainesville

APRIL 1967

Florida Pocket Gopher


C. R. Madsen
Rodent Control Specialist


In the states of Florida and
Georgia, the pocket gopher is
commonly known as a "Sala-
mander". Early writings suggest
that the name salamander de-
veloped from a contraction of a
local designation, "sandy mound-
er". Apparently the early set-
tlers used the name of sandy
mounder because the animal
which was responsible for the
sandy mounds of soil were sel-
dom, if ever, seen. Therefore the

supply catalogues for salaman-
der traps, but to no avail. Pock-
et gopher traps are a standard
item in all hardware wholesale
listings. The persistence of local
names is expected to perpetuate
the misuse of the term "sala-
mander" for many years.
Pocket gophers are quite com-
mon over most of the western
portion of the United States and
Mexico. They are not native to
the northeastern states, and the

Fig. 1.-A stuffed, skinned, pocket gopher.
animal may not have been other- only extensive population east
wise recognized by the average of the Mississippi River is the
citizen. Florida, South Georgia, South
The common name of sala- Alabama group. In the past
mander has created some con- there has been some disagree-
fusion among small hardware ment in naming the species of
store owners who search the this southeastern group. Messrs.
1 Also State Supervisor, Division of Wildlife Services: Bureau Sport Fisheries And Wildlife,
United States Department of Interior.

Hall and Kelson, in their publi-
cation "The Mammals of North
America", list the southeastern
pocket gophers as Geomys pine-
tus with four subspecies, plus
three other very restricted spe-
cies: Geomys colonus at Camden
County, Georgia; Geomys fon-
tanelus at Chatham County,
Georgia; and Geomys cumber-
landius at Cumberland Island,
Pocket gophers are fairly
common in Florida, but they are

somewhat restricted to certain
soil types and drainage situa-
tions. They are not generally
found south of a looping line be-
ginning at Punta Gorda on the
Gulf Coast then circling north-
ward to near Lake Wales and
then back to near Vero Beach on
the Atlantic Coast. They are
generally found in specific well
drained sandy soils, and they
appear to favor alkaline soils
slightly more than acid soils.


Florida pocket gophers are
medium sized rodents. They
should never be confused with
moles. They may vary in total
length from 8 to 12 inches from
nose to tip of tail. They gen-
erally are of a dark brown to
blackish color and have a hair-
less tail. They are short legged
and present a stocky muscular
look. An outstanding character-
istic is the fur lined, external
cheek pouches which are used
for transporting root sections
and other bits of food-and are
never used for carrying soil to
the ground surface as some peo-
ple suspect. These animals have
strong front limbs with long
heavy claws which are used for
digging. The ears are small and
close-set and the eyes look like
small black beads.
Pocket gophers are basically


Fig. 2.-Head of a salamander, show-
ing the cheek pouches and the protud-
ing chisel-like teeth.
vegetarians. They might on
some occasions consume such
things as snails, earthworms, or
beetles which they find in their


burrows but the major food
items are plant parts. Most of
these plant parts consist of roots
and stems from near the ground
level below the surface. At times
they may do considerable forag-
ing on top of the ground but al-
ways in an area reasonably near
the entrance to one of their
lateral tunnels. Food particles
are carried in the cheek pouches
and are stored in specially
located food caches within the
burrow system.

These animals do not hiber-
nate. When freezing weather or
excessively dry periods prevail,
they simply burrow at a greater
depth. Sociability is not one of
their virtues. More than one ani-
mal per burrow system occurs
only during a restricted breed-
ing season or while partially
grown young remain in the same
burrow with their mother.
Glass sided panels have been
used to study pocket gophers. In
this way it was learned that bur-
rows are constructed by digging
with the front feet, with some
assistance from the large incisor
teeth. The loose soil is pushed
along the burrow by the front
feet and chest somewhat in the
manner of a bulldozer. This ac-
tion is used to push the soil up
the steep laterals so it can be
left at the surface in the charac-
teristic mounds. Lateral tunnels
are never left open, even while
they are being used. The pocket

gopher will push a load of soil to
the surface and then quickly re-
plug the hole with additional
In their burrows below the
surface, pocket gophers have
specific nests and food caches.
Gophers use the burrows to for-
age for food, and they seldom
travel in a straight line. How-
ever, Dr. H. B. Sherman gave
much study time to pocket
gophers while he was associated
with the University of Florida.
He determined that male
gophers tended to dig their bur-
rows in much straighter lines
than females, and the mounds
would often be pushed out of the
steep laterals on alternate sides.
The females (and often the
males) will cross over and under
their own burrows, and will have
many circular connecting tun-
Individual burrow systems
have been excavated to lengths
well beyond 150 yards. Such a
system could have 50 to 70 iden-
tifiable mounds, plus older
mounds which have nearly dis-
appeared. There are many in-
stances where the mounds indi-
cate that an ambitious pocket
gopher has burrowed completely
under a surfaced roadway and
has had to transport the exca-
vated soil back along the burrow
for many yards before it could
be pushed to a surface mound.
Burrow systems are often ex-
tended without the appearance

of new mounds because the soil
from the new tunnels can be
pushed into old burrows which
the animal no longer requires.
Most of the burrowing is done
at night or in the early morning.
The method by which a pocket
gopher in his underground bur-
row always seems to know when
it is day or night is not known.

The most easily identified
damage is the presence of the
surface mounds. In landscaped
areas these mounds are un-
sightly and they interfere with
grass mowing. They can easily
be classified as a "disaster" on a
golf course. Many home owners
have sworn vengeance on the
offending individual and all its
progeny when several new

mounds appear in the center of
the "front lawn".
More substantial damage may
occur in rural situations. Mounds
may not seriously interfere with
highway roadside mowing be-
cause of the use of rotary mow-
ers, but farmers who desire to
mow and bale forage are faced
with expensive maintenance and
repairs for their "sickle-bar"
mowers. Pelleting machinery is
also damaged by stones from the
mounds when they are trans-
ported with the harvested for-
An even greater damage may
result from the feeding habits of
the animals. Many roots are
eaten, weakening the plants, and
many plants are killed outright
when the tap-root and root
crown are eaten. This reduction

Fig. 3.-Pocket gophers considerable damage to improved livestock pastures.

of forage coupled with the loss
of production under each of the
mounds may easily exceed the
margin of profit for some pas-
In some instances, pocket
gophers feed on the roots of

planted pine trees or other com-
mercially grown trees. Young
pines are killed outright, but the
reduced fruit and nut produc-
tion from mature trees which
suffer from pocket gopher dam-
age is not easily determined.


Many publications deal with
the control of pocket gophers.
Most of these give extensive in-
structions for the use of a hand
"probe". Unfortunately, these
instructions are not adaptable to
Florida conditions.
Because of the deep sandy
soil, Florida gophers are forced
to burrow at depths which gen-
erally are below the reach of
hand probes. Even when bur-
rows are located with probes, the
loose sand runs into the open
hole and prevents the proper
placement of a lethal bait.
But the deep burrows and the
sandy soil do not prohibit the
use of a shovel to expose the
main burrow so that a lethal bait
can be used. However, finding
the main burrow is not always a
simple task. In many cases it is
possible to remove the whole
mound and then carefully scrape
away 2 to 3 inch layers of soil
and expose the different colored
soil which was used to plug the
lateral tunnel. By following this
lateral tunnel, the main burrow
usually can be located; if not,

then refill the hole and try at
another mound.
Another method of locating
the main burrow is to study the

Fig. 4.-The main burrow exposed and
showing two openings.
pattern of the surface mounds
and estimate the probable loca-
tion of the burrow; then dig a
short cross-trench to intersect
the burrow system.

The sandy soil in Florida can
be easily dug, but many burrows
have been found at depths of 30
inches, and care is required so
as not to dig past a burrow with-
out finding the opening. Some-
times the depth of the burrow
can be estimated by the size and
spacing of the surface mounds.
Large mounds which are rela-
tively close together would indi-
cate a deep burrow system.
When the main burrow is
located it will expose two tunnel
openings of 2.5 to 3 inches in
diameter. It is not possible to
determine which section of the
burrow the pocket gopher might
be in, and therefore it is neces-
sary to provide a lethal bait for
each opening. A large spoon can
be used to place the bait, and it
is generally best to fasten an ex-
tension handle onto the spoon so
the bait can be placed into the
tunnel a distance of 15 to 20
inches. When root type baits are
used, it is possible to adapt an
old automobile speedometer ca-
ble and housing for bait place-
ment. Let the cable protrude be-
yond the housing for 1 or 2
inches and then "stick" a carrot
or sweet potato bait on the cable
end. Push the bait far into the
open tunnel and then pull the
cable back through the housing
so that the bait will be left in
the burrow. After bait has been
placed in each of the open tun-
nels the complete excavation
should be refilled, and all of the
fresh surface mounds in the

vicinity should be kicked down.
A later inspection of the area
will show if there are fresh
mounds, which will indicate that
some of the pocket gophers were
not killed.
The amount of bait which
should be used for each place-
ment will depend on the type of
bait and strength of the treat-
ment. For the baits that are
recommended in this circular
the proper amounts are: one
level tablespoonful of grain bait;
or one piece of root vegetable ap-
proximately 1 by 2 inches in

A container of about 1 gallon
size, or a three foot square piece
of plastic or heavy canvas can be
used for the mixing. All of the
metal containers which will no
longer be used, should be wash-
ed, punctured, and mashed and
then buried. Small hand tools
should be washed, labeled, and
stored for future use. Accidents
are the responsibility of those
people who create them. Prior
to the use of any lethal chem-
icals a check should be made of
the state laws concerning the
legality of using poisons in field
situations. Antidotes should al-
ways be obtained in advance and
kept available for emergency
Many types of grain can be
used for bait, but the best suc-
cess has been obtained by using
whole oats or partially rolled

oats. Put 4 pounds of grain into
the mixing container or on to the
mixing canvas. Add 1 ounce of
cooking oil and mix well. Then
add 1/4 ounce of strychnine alka-
loid by slowly sifting and stir-
ring to insure an even distribu-
tion. An alternate bait can be
prepared by adding one ounce
of cooking oil to four pounds of
grain and then adding 1/2 ounce
of zinc phosphide. Grain baits
can be prepared several days in
advance of use, or they can be
used as soon as they are pre-
pared. If they are stored, the
containers should always be well
marked as POISON, and kept in
a safe location where children
and irresponsible people can not
get to them.
Root vegetable baits are usu-
ally of sweet potatoes or carrots.
These baits are prepared by first
scraping the sides of the vegeta-
bles so they will be damp and
then cutting them into sections
of about 2 inches in length and
not less than 1 inch across. By
using the mixing container or
the canvas, and for each quart
of cut baits, add 1/8 ounce of
strychnine alkaloid by sifting
and stirring well. An alternate
treatment can be made by using
1/4 ounce of zinc phosphide to
dust over the bait and mix well.
Vegetable baits must be used the
same day they are prepared, and
should never be stored and held

Prior to any work with lethal
chemicals, obtain the proper an-
tidote from a druggist, with in-
structions for safety while
handling. Be sure never to con-
taminate the skin with raw
poisons and use a tool for han-
dling the treated bait. Poison
dust, especially while mixing
baits, can be very dangerous.
All empty poison containers
must be properly disposed of by
burning and deep burial. Poison
containers must always be kept
away from open water. Local
laws and ordinances must be
respected and obeyed at all
Trapping can be a very pro-
ductive method of reducing the
numbers of these rodents. Just
one pocket gopher may easily
be responsible for 50 or more
mounds, so it is not a question
of catching a great number of
individuals to reduce the visible
The specially designed pocket
gopher traps should always be
used. (See illustration.) These
traps are available through
stores and from trap manufac-
Select an area of fresh mounds
and use a shovel to dig to the
main burrow in the manner de-
scribed for hand bait placement.
Fresh mounds indicate the ani-
mal is currently using that area
of his burrow system in his

search for food, and this will in-
crease the chances of a speedy
When the main burrow is
found, set a trap in each of the

into the hole without binding. It
sometimes is necessary to widen
the hole just slightly so the trap
will fit properly. Leave 1/ inch
of loose soil on the floor of the


fluI 0

Fig. 5.-Pocket gopher trap in set position.

open tunnels because it can not
be determined which tunnel the
gopher may be using. Prior to
setting the traps, fasten to each
one a light weight chain or a
heavy cord of at least 3 feet in
length. On the free end of this
tether provide a loop for a stake
or tie a 5 to 6 inch stick to act as
a toggle. This is used to prevent
a gopher from pulling a trap far
back into the burrow system,
which would require further dig-
ging to dispatch him and recover
the trap. Most of the animals
will be quickly killed by the trap,
but occasionally one will be
caught only by the skin.
In preparing the tunnel for
the trap, be sure the trap can fit

tunnel in the area where the trap
will finally rest. Then with the
trap set and the toggle attached,
push the set trap as far back
into the tunnel as you can, and
work the trap into the loose soil
on the tunnel floor to partially
cover the metal. Leave some free
slack in the tether, and carefully
close the tunnel entrance to
within inch of fully closed. If
the tunnel is left fully open the
gopher will usually plug the
opening from far back beyond
the trap and thus escape capture.
If the tunnel is fully closed, the
gopher may never come all the
way to the trap. But if the tun-
nel is left slightly open to allow
a small amount of light to enter

the burrow the gopher makes a
valiant effort to push some loose
soil into the opening, and this ac-
tion becomes his downfall.
When traps are used, the loca-
tions can be marked with a long
stick which can be used through
the stake loops in place of a tog-
gle, and this will also assist in
relocating the trap sets. When
toggles only are used it is gener-
ally possible to relocate the sets
by the piles of soil which were
excavated in finding the main
burrow. Traps will often be pro-
ductive within 20 or 30 minutes;
they should be inspected at
least twice each day. When an
animal is caught, it should be

determined if it is a female
which might have partly grown
young still inhabiting the bur-
row system. If the animal ap-
pears to be an adult which is not
rearing young, then refill the
location and find a new series of
mounds for another trap set.
Very rarely is more than one
pocket gopher taken from a bur-
row system by consecutive trap
When a gopher has been trap-
ped and the location has been re-
filled, then kick down all the
fresh appearing mounds in that
area. Future visits to the area
will readily show any new
mounds, which will indicate that


/ I---
A __- -~

Fig. 6.-After excavating the main runway, traps are set-one in each
direction. Stakes help locate the sets and anchor the traps so they will not
be lost.

additional gophers have burrow
systems in that area and more

trapping will be required.


A specially designed machine
can be used in some large pas-
ture areas that are free of
stumps, stones, and other ob-
structions in the soil. These
machines work somewhat like a
drainage mole plow, creating an
artificial pocket gopher burrow
and at the same time depositing
small amounts of baits along
this burrow. These artificial
burrows will intersect some of
the natural burrows, and when-
ever the pocket gopher runs into
these new tunnels in his terri-
tory he will run along them to
discover who is intruding, and
in this manner he will find the
bait which has been deposited in
the burrows.
One of the difficulties in using
this type of machine in Florida
is that pocket gophers here dig


at a greater depth than they do
in other parts of the country. In
Florida it is necessary to create
an artificial burrow in the depth
range of 12 to 15 inches and
sometimes as deep as 20 inches
below the surface of the soil. At
the present time there is no
machine which will produce
these deep artificial burrows and
therefore it is necessary to re-
model and adapt the present
machines to accomplish this, or
to build a machine specifically to
tit Florida conditions.
The use of a machine to create
artificial burrows for pocket
gopher control eliminates the
use of root vegetable baits. Only
grain which has been treated
with strychnine alkaloid or with
zinc phosphide is recommended
for Florida conditions.

4 1.

Fig. 7.-A burrow building machine in raised position. Note the length
of the digging shank.

A strong tractor is required to
pull a pocket gopher burrow
building machine, especially if a
heavy sod and a sandy clay sub-
soil is present. It is also
necessary to predetermine the
average depth that the pocket
gophers are burrowing. The bur-
row depth will change from sea-
son to season depending on the
moisture content of the soil for
any particular time and place.
One method of determine
when the soil moisture content
is suitable for machine burrow
baiting is to dig to the depth at
which the pocket gopher bur-
rows are open, and then by com-
pacting a small handful of soil
determine if it will stick to-
gether and pack. If the soil is too
dry and sandy, it will fall apart
and there is a question as to
whether the burrow building
machine can create an artificial
burrow which will remain open
and be attractive to the pocket
gophers in the area.
The amount of bait that is
required per acre when using a
burrow building machine de-
pends on the density of the pock-
et g o p h e r infestation. How-
ever, past experience has shown
that using the machine at inter-
vals of 15 to 20 yards will serve

in most cases to reduce the local
population and this spacing will
require 2 to 3 pounds of bait
per acre. Most of the machines
are constructed so that the bait
feed mechanism will not operate
unless the "mole" is completely
buried into the ground. This
eliminates the possibility of dis-
tributing bait on the surface of
the ground while the machine is
raised for turning or transport-
ing, and thereby prevents possi-
ble hazard to wildlife, birds, and
All bait which is not used in
any one day should be removed
from the bait hopper and stored
in properly labeled containers in
a safe location. Bait should not
be left in the machine in the
field for over-night or longer
Local county agents can give
assistance in obtaining informa-
tion on the availability of com-
mercially manufactured pocket
gopher burrow building ma-
chines and on sources of supply
for large quantities of commer-
cially treated baits for use in
these machines. In the event
that it is desired to construct a
machine at a farm or commercial
shop, building instructions can
be obtained through the local
county agents.

This circular replaces Agricultural
Experiment Station Circular S-87.
(Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914)
Agricultural Extension Service, University of Florida,
and United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperating
M. O. Watkins, Director

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