The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Gopher

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GOPHER, the common name of two very different American animals, the one composing the rodent genera geomys and thomomys, the other the large land tortoise, testudo polyphemus, of the southern states (see Tortoise); where the name is used for the latter animal, the rodents are almost universally called salamanders. On account of this confusion of names, it is necessary to ascertain the region of country of a speaker or writer before it can be known whether a mammal or a reptile is referred to. In Illinois and other western states the term gopher is also given to other rodents of the genus spermophilus (Cuv.), which will be noticed under their proper name of Prairie Squirrel. The rodent gophers, or pouched rats, as they are often called, constitute the subfamily geomyinæ, characterized by large external cheek pouches, hairy uncleft upper lip, molars , great development of temporal bones, massive skull and lower jaw, very large and thick incisors, small ante-orbital foramen far forward on the side of the muzzle, broad occiput forming the posterior wall of the skull, and remarkable contraction between the orbits, where the bones are narrower than the snout; the palate is horizontal between the molars, rising rapidly in front of them to near the incisors, leaving a deep concavity between them and the molars; the body is thick-set and clumsy, the limbs equal and very short, the claws on the fore feet enormously developed for digging purposes. They are subterranean and nocturnal animals, rarely seen, and confined to North America; they are very abundant in certain districts west of the Mississippi; their colors vary much with age and season. The genus geomys (Rafinesque), or pseudostoma (Say), in addition to the above family characters, has the anterior surface of the upper incisors marked with one or two grooves, the crown of the rootless molars with an elliptical outline, very thick zygomatic arches, the lower outline of the under jaw a curve mostly parallel to the inferior surface of the incisors, the bones of the fore leg stouter than those of the posterior, and the clavicles well developed; the eyes are small and far apart, the ears hardly perceptible; no appearance of neck, the thickest part of the animal being about the head; the opening of the mouth very small, with a chamber between the incisors and molars lined with skin and mostly covered with short hair; the lower lip tumid and very movable. The cheek pouches cover the sides of the head, extending back to the middle of the scapula, and are capable of great distention; they are well clothed with hair on the side next to the head, and on the other nearly naked; they always open outside, and never communicate with the mouth; the body is covered with soft hair; the tail is thickened, hairy, tapering toward the tip, which is naked for about half an inch; the feet are five-toed, covered with hair above, smooth and tumid below, with a large tubercle on the palm; the fingers and toes may be completely flexed; the claws are long, curved, compressed, and sharp below, smaller, thicker, and conical on the hind feet. The species are mostly found east of the Rocky mountains, and are very abundant in Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa; they are also found in Canada, Texas, Mexico, and the gulf states, but not on the Atlantic coast north of the Savannah river. The pouched gopher (G. bursarius, Shaw) is from 8 to 10 in. long, the tail 2½ to 3½, and the weight from 12 to 14 oz. The prevailing color is reddish brown above, ashy brown beneath, with the feet white; in the warm season, and in young animals, the general color is plumbeous. They burrow in sandy soils, throwing up the earth in little mounds by means of the back and shoulders; they feed on grasses, roots, nuts, &c., which they carry to their holes in their pouches; they are injurious to vegetation by eating the roots of trees, shrubs, grasses, and vegetables; they remain inactive in cold weather; the female brings forth from five to seven at a birth in the spring.

AmCyc Gopher - Pouched Gopher.jpg

Pouched Gopher (Geomys bursarius).

In the region of the upper Missouri they are called muloes; the generic name given by Rafinesque means “earth mouse,” and that by Say “false mouth,” the one indicating its burrowing habits, the other the capacious cheek pouches. They are common in Canada, and as far as lat. 52° N. The southern gopher, Georgia hamster, or salamander (G. pinetis, Raf.), is a large species, having a single deep groove on the upper incisors; the fore feet are longer than the hinder, the tail naked nearly to the base, and the color above plumbeous brown, ashy white beneath; it is found in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Five other species are described by Prof. Baird in the “Report of the Pacific Railroad Expeditions,” vol. viii., from the western states, Mexico, and Texas.—There are several species of gopher, found principally on the Pacific coast of the United States, belonging to the genus thomomys (Maxim.), which differs from geomys in the nearly smooth anterior surface of the upper incisors, in the ovate crowns of the molars, less massive skull, and the fore feet being considerably shorter than the hind ones. The California gopher (T. bulbivorus, Rich.) is the largest of the genus, though an inch or two less than the G. bursarius; the color above is reddish chestnut brown, with dusky tips to the hairs, paler beneath, and tail grayish white.

AmCyc Gopher - California Gopher.jpg

California Gopher (Thomomys bulbivorus).

1. Front view of mouth, teeth, and jaws. 2. Hind paw. 3. Fore paw. 4, 5. Nails of fore and hind feet.

It is very annoying to the farmer and horticulturist, and its destructive propensities have caused it to be baited with traps and poisons on all possible occasions; phosphorus and strychnine seem to be the most successful.