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OCH BLOG

Native Rodents of Orange County: Part 3

Updated: Mar 18

We know rodents are important for our ecosystem and play an important role in balancing our Orange County (OC) habitats. They also play a key role in agriculture. However, they are often overlooked due to our perception of them. We can only imagine the short-term and long-term effects on our habitats in their absence. So we need to identify, know and conserve the native rodents and their habitats to keep the balance in our natural habitats.


Botta’s pocket gopher peeping out of its' burrow. Photo by Chuck Abbe | Flickr

Botta’s pocket gopher, Thomomys bottae, is our next spotlight species. Botta’s pocket gophers is a fossorial rodent named for its fur-lined cheek pocket. Gophers’ cheek pouches are used for transporting bits of plant food that they gather while foraging underground. They have particular adaptations for their burrowing lifestyle, including clawed front paws for digging, small eyes and ears, and sensitive whiskers and tails. Botta's pocket gopher is a medium-sized gopher, with adults reaching a length of 7.1 to 10.6 inches, including a tail of 2.0 to 2.4 inches.


In general, loose sandy soil with edible plant cover is the best habitat for these gophers. They inhabit a range of habitats, including woodlands, chaparral, scrubland, and agricultural land, limited only by rocky terrain, barren deserts, and major rivers. Pocket gopher teeth are well-adapted for their vegetarian diet which includes roots, tubers, and the occasional aboveground plant which provide all the necessary nutrients to these hungry rodents.


The gopher smelling the air to sense whether or not there is good food around. Photo by Bill Bouton | Flickr

These gophers play a vital role in the ecosystem. They move enormous amounts of soil every year and therefore help to aerate the soil. This is especially important when the soil has been compacted by grazing livestock or agricultural machinery. The tunnels also serve to capture precipitation that would otherwise run over the soil surface and cause erosion. Abandoned tunnels provide habitat for several other species, and the waste left behind by gophers fertilizes the soil.


These gophers face numerous threats from predators which include American badgers, coyotes, long-tailed weasels, and snakes. Other predators include skunks, owls, bobcats, and hawks.


These gophers can breed year-round in the area with sufficient food, agricultural land, for instance. In less hospitable habitats, breeding occurs in spring. They can be found in San Joaquin Marsh, Irvine area in OC.


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