Mazama pocket gopher

Mazama pocket gopher

Mazama pocket gopher

Thomomys mazama
204-213 mm

The Mazama pocket gopher (Thomomys mazama ) is a smooth-toothed pocket gopher restricted to the Pacific Northwest. The herbivorous species ranges from coastal Washington, through Oregon, and into north-central California. Four subspecies of the Mazama Pocket Gopher are classified as endangered including Thomomys mazama; pugetensis (Olympia pocket gopher), tumuli (Tenino pocket gopher), glacialis (Roy Prairie pocket gopher), and yelmensis (Yelm pocket gopher). The Mazama Pocket Gopher is one of the smallest of 35 species in the pocket gopher family.


Mazama pocket gophers are light brown to black in color, with adults ranging in size from 5 to 6 inches in length. The Mazama pocket gopher’s distinctive features include pointed claws, long whiskers, and protruding chisel-like front teeth. The pocket gopher serves as prey for a variety of predatory species. The species has poor vision, but excels at digging burrows with their long claws and strong limbs and its burrows are used by a number of other species.

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The gophers transport food and nesting material by fur pouches on their bodies and pockets within their cheeks. The gopher's diet consists of plant material, mostly vegetation, roots and tubers. According to a study conducted in South-Central Oregon between 1973 and 1974, the Mazama Pocket Gopher’s diet consists mostly of above ground parts of forbs, grasses, woody plants, and plant roots. These comprised 40%, 32%, 4%, and 24% of their diet, respectively, by volume, per a study which examined the contents of the stomachs of 110 Mazama Pocket Gophers. The diet of the Mazama Pocket Gopher adapts to the availability of different foods, however they tend to choose the most succulent foods available throughout the year.

The gophers exhibit asocial behaviors except during the gestation and mating season. Mating is believed to be polygamous. Gestation lasts around 18 days, with each litter averaging 3 or 4 young. Females will usually have one litter per year between March and June. Pocket gophers form an angled tunnel in the ground as they dig for roots to eat. In this process, they transform the soil into a soft and sifted powder, in turn creating a unique, irregularly shaped mound with an off-center hole.

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Biogeographical realms

The Mazama Pocket Gopher is mainly local to areas with herbaceous vegetation and well-drained glacial soil. The total population is unknown, but believed to exceed 100,000, a majority of population resides in the state of Oregon. There are 27 known populations in the state of Washington, with an estimated 2000-5000 individuals total. The state of Washington has listed the Mazama pocket gopher and its subspecies found in the Puget Sound area as threatened.

Mazama pocket gopher habitat map

Climate zones

Mazama pocket gopher habitat map
Mazama pocket gopher
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Habits and Lifestyle

The Mazama pocket gopher is important to the prairie ecosystem it inhabits. Each gopher is capable of turning over 3-7 tons of soil per acre per year. Their presence is beneficial for plant diversity, with one study showing 5-48% higher as a result. Frogs, toads, small mammals and lizards also use their gopher burrows. Pocket gophers form an angled tunnel in the ground as they dig for roots to eat. In this process, they transform the soil into a soft and sifted powder, in turn creating a unique, irregularly shaped mound with an off-center hole.

Mating Habits

30 days


Population number

The species is currently listed as threatened by the state of Washington. In December 2012, a proposal was made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the gopher as threatened. It would apply to the four local subspecies of the Mazama pocket gopher and their prairie habitat. Their prairie habitat in which the gophers live has been reduced by 90-95% in the last 150 years. A translocation project has been undertaken, but a mortality of 90% has been reported.

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The gopher is also listed as a pest in the state of Washington because it is known to cause damage to infrastructure. The gophers can destroy waterlines, endanger livestock, destroy crops and weaken levees and dams.

The conservation of the species has been met with some press coverage. In July 2013, Fox News ran a story about Fort Lewis's $3.5 million grant from the state of Washington to purchase 2600 acres of land during a time when workers were on furlough. Prior to this story, the grant was described by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell as "...taking an important step in addressing one of the greatest threats to wildlife in America today, loss of habitat, while helping to ensure the preservation of working landscapes and our military readiness."

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1. Mazama pocket gopher Wikipedia article -
2. Mazama pocket gopher on The IUCN Red List site -

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