Gophers and groundhogs are often confused, mostly because gophers look like young groundhogs, but these two animals aren’t the same species. They often inhabit the same area, though, so some people ask for a gopher vs groundhog comparison.
Adult groundhogs are noticeably larger than gophers, and the tail of the groundhog is noticeably longer in proportion to its own body than the tail of the gopher. The colour of their coats, however, is similar.
Aside from these, the most obvious differences, there are more things between gophers and groundhogs that need to be cleared up. Read on to learn how to tell them apart from one another.
Key Differences Between Gophers and Groundhogs
When comparing two animals, I like to keep in mind their classification, size, features, habits, and behaviour. As we delve deeper, you’ll soon see that these two species have many differences.
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Many people think that gophers and groundhogs are closely related, but that actually isn’t true. They’re only related in the order – they both belong to the Rodentia order.
The families, however, are completely different.
The groundhog belongs to the Sciuridae family, which is the family of squirrels. The gopher belongs to the Geomyoidea superfamily, which it shares with mice and kangaroo rats.
Believe it or not, gophers are closer related to beavers than to groundhogs. Which, just based on their body characteristics, doesn’t make sense at first glance since groundhogs are physically more similar to beavers than gophers.
However, that’s the way biology works – gophers and groundhogs aren’t that closely related, despite their similarities.
Gopher Vs Groundhog Size
The most obvious difference between these two animals is in their size. Gophers are much smaller animals when compared to groundhogs.
Groundhogs can grow up to 27 inches in length, which includes a tail that can be up to 7 inches long. They can weigh up to 13 pounds.
Gophers, on the other hand, normally don’t weigh more than half a pound, and they’re not longer than 14 inches, while the tail itself is only 2 inches long.
If you put a gopher and a groundhog next to another, the gopher might look like a baby groundhog.
Both of these species are characterized by their large teeth. Groundhogs have four incisor teeth that grow without stopping by 1/16 of an inch per week. They need to grow without stopping because they use them all the time.
The teeth of a gopher also grow without end since they chew on nuts, but they’re noticeably smaller than the teeth of a groundhog.
Gophers are easily recognized by their cheek pouches. Their name – pocket gopher – actually derives from these pouches as they use them to transport food to their burrows.
This is the biggest difference between gophers and groundhogs – groundhogs don’t have cheek pouches.
Gopher and Groundhog Tails
Another noticeable difference between the two is not only that the tails are different in size, but that they’re differently sized in regard to the rest of the body.
The tail of a gopher rarely exceeds 2 inches in length, while the animal itself can grow up to 14 inches. That means that the tail makes up about 14% of the animal’s size (on average – could be slightly different from one gopher to the other).
Groundhogs, on the other hand, can grow a 7-inch-long tail, which is astonishing. In some cases, the tail of the groundhog is longer can be longer than an entire gopher.
Since groundhogs grow up to 26 inches, their tails make up a quarter of their entire body length.
What’s important to distinguish about the tails of these two species, though, is that gophers need their tails to move. They often walk backwards – a type of movement not that often seen with animals – and they use their tails as a sort of field tester to feel what’s behind them.
What Do Groundhogs and Gophers Eat
When it comes to the gopher vs groundhog diet, their habits are fairly similar, with one important distinction – gophers rarely eat meat.
Gophers mostly feed on fruits and vegetables, specifically roots and tubers. They don’t have a problem getting to the roots of a plant because they’re amazing diggers.
They’ll also eat vegetables or fruits themselves; carrots and lettuce are common foods. If they can’t eat everything they found, they’ll stuff their cheek pockets with the food and carry it to their storage chambers below the ground.
Because of this type of feeding activity, pocket gophers are classified as agricultural pests in some areas.
The same can be said for groundhogs – they’re not any better (for us humans) in this regard. Although they mostly feed on wild grasses in the wild, they often wander into human territory. The most common wild grasses are dandelion, buttercup, and timothy grass.
There, they’ll eat berries, roots, vegetables and fruit. Unlike gophers, groundhogs are omnivorous – they’ll eat meat if they get the opportunity.
This includes small animals – insects (and grubs), snails and slugs, small birds, earthworms, and bird eggs. This is the biggest dietary difference between them and gophers.
Groundhogs have a limited range in comparison to gophers. They’re found in Alaska, most of Canada, and the northeastern USA. Gophers, on the other hand, are found in southern Canada, the western and southeastern United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia.
The reason for this is that gophers are simply more adaptable to the environment. They spent most of their time underground, and they can dig almost anywhere – as long as the soil isn’t too stiff.
They prefer loose soil, so sandy areas are their favourite areas.
Groundhogs are also burrowing animals, but it can be argued that they don’t burrow as much as gophers. They’re usually found in forests, open fields and pastures, particularly near populated areas, as humans increase access to food.
Gophers are quicker breeders than groundhogs. Groundhogs usually wait until their second birthday to breed (not literally, as they’re not aware of the concept, but they feel that they’ve sexually matured around the time of their second birthday), while gophers are sexually mature after they turn one.
According to the University of California, Gophers can mate up to three times a year, and this is especially common in well-irrigated areas, while drier areas only see one litter a year.
Groundhogs, on the other hand, only breed once a year, while a female can have up to 9 litters in her lifetime. Most litters don’t have more than 5 pups.
This means that gophers are a greater threat, in the agricultural sense, as their colonies grow in numbers much more quickly.
There are important differences and similarities in the behaviour of these two species, as well.
They’re both burrowers – groundhogs build extensive burrows with the main tunnel and several chambers. They’re normally solitary animals, but a few groundhogs can live in the same burrow.
Gophers build similar burrows – they have a tunnel system with chambers where they store food. Aside from the breeding season, they are also solitary animals.
They’re also highly territorial, which is why it’s recommended not to interact with them if you see them in your yard. If threatened, gophers will fight back and they can seriously hurt you – their teeth are extremely sharp and they might carry illnesses.
Groundhogs are the same in this regard, but they might be even more dangerous. Their teeth are larger, they have a more powerful bite, and they have large claws.
Both of these species, however, will always retreat if possible. Groundhogs are actually capable of climbing, and they’ll often scale a tree to get out of a predator’s reach.
Groundhogs are true hibernators – one of the very few species to actually do so. They fill up on fat before the winter and just sleep through it in their burrows. During this time, their body temperature and heart rate both drop significantly.
Gophers don’t hibernate at all and you might see them during the winter. If there’s a small animal similar to groundhogs running around your yard in the winter, it might be a gopher.
FAQ Gopher Vs Groundhog
How Can You Tell If You Have a Gopher in Your Yard?
Aside from actually seeing the gopher, you’ll be able to see the mound if the animal built a burrow in your yard. They can also destroy vegetables, and tree bark, and cause soil erosion by digging. These are all easy-to-spot signs of a gopher infestation.
What Is a Group of Groundhogs Called?
A group of groundhogs is called a coterie.
Gopher vs Groundhog Final Thoughts
While these animals are similar in appearance, they’re not as closely related as some people think and it’s easy to tell them apart. Groundhogs are noticeably larger and their tails are much longer (relative to their own body).
Unlike groundhogs, gophers have cheek pouches for storing food. Their dietary habits are also different – groundhogs are omnivores, while gophers mostly feed on vegetables (particularly roots) and fruits.
Both of these species have a high potential for wreaking havoc in your yard, though, as they’re agricultural pests.
For more information about gophers, here’s an article that will be of interest.
The University of California – Pocket Gophers