Gopher vs. Squirrel: What are the Differences?

At a glance, gophers and squirrels are both four-legged animals that are easy to confuse with each other. They are common pests that take over lawns and gardens. The two mammals have a lot of similarities that make it difficult to tell them apart. Fortunately, each group has distinct features that can help determine if you’ve come across a gopher or a squirrel! To start, gophers devour plant roots and prefer to eat them underground. They do, however, eat aboveground on occasion. Squirrels forage above ground and on trees, consuming food-producing plants, ornamentals, and, in some instances, insects. Apart from that, what are the other differences between a gopher vs squirrel? Let’s explore the characteristics that distinguish the two creatures in the sections below.

Comparing a Gopher and a Squirrel

A gopher differs from a squirrel in behavior, diet, and appearance.

Picture CreditAZ-Animals.com

Gopher Squirrel
Appearance – has either brown, black, or gray fur and two exposed yellow-orange incisors – about 11 to 25 inches long with speckled, brownish-gray fur and a semi-bushy tail
Diet – herbivores – omnivores
Habitat – stays underground instead of on land – live on land and on trees
Behavior – solitary animals but willing to share their burrows with others – lives in colonies that can consist of several dozen animals
damage – feed on plant roots or grassroots, causing plant damage. Their tunnels are deep enough to where they damage wires, pipes, and cables buried underground. – specifically will cause damage to foundations, sidewalks, and pools by burrowing next to or under them

The 5 Key Differences Between a Gopher and a Squirrel

The main differences between a gopher and a ground or tree squirrel include their appearance, diet, habitat, behavior, and damage. Gophers are members of the Geomyidae family, and there are over thirty-five species of gophers in the central and northern parts of the United States. Squirrels belong to the Kingdom Sciuridae family. The term has three species, with the larger ones more commonly known as marmots or prairie dogs and the smaller type known as chipmunks. The medium-sized ones are the ones that are known as ground squirrels. Squirrels and gophers couldn’t be more different, and we’ll go through each of their differences in detail.

Gopher vs. Squirrel: Appearance

At Gopher in Minnesota, USA.
Gophers have a body length of 5 to 14 inches, while squirrels are 11 to 25 inches long.

Typically, gophers are about a pound in weight and have a body length of about 5 to 14 inches. They are known as pocket gophers because they have fur-lined cheek pockets for carrying food and nesting materials. Their lips close behind their large, yellow-orange incisor teeth so that dirt does not enter their mouths when they dig burrows with their teeth. They have a uniform color which can either be black, brown, or gray fur.

Ground and tree squirrels are about 11 to 25 inches long, with speckled brownish-gray fur and a semi-bushy tail. Ground squirrels are known for their powerful claws and short legs. They have a unique characteristic that allows them to stand as high as possible above their feet with their hind legs. They can stand fully upright and maintain this position for an extended period.

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Gopher vs. Squirrel: Diet

squirrel eating a nut
Nuts provide a perfect mix of protein and fat to support squirrels during the winter.

Picture CreditiStock.com/sines-design

Gophers are herbivores who feed on plants, flowers, and plant matter. Grass and forbs are their primary sources of nutrition. Although most forbs have flowers, they are not shrubs. They also eat lettuce, carrots, and other vegetables but rarely consume seeds and fruits. Even to locate water, gophers do not have to leave their tunnels as the moisture in the plants they eat provides them with water.

Squirrels are omnivorous, eating a diet rich in fungus, nuts, fruits, and seeds, as well as insects, eggs, and other small animals on occasion. They are known to consume rats and mice several times their size. Despite spending enough time underground, these pests can also hunt for food above ground.

Gopher vs. Squirrel: Habitat

uinta ground squirrel eating blade of grass
Squirrels live in fields, pastures, and sparsely forested hillsides.

Picture CreditiStock.com/Michael Chatt

A gopher’s primary habitat is sandy soil, which they can dig through to create a burrow so they can go underground to escape the heat or cold. Pocket gophers make two types of tunnels: long tunnels with many twists and turns. Gophers travel through this tunnel near the ground’s surface to search for plant roots. The second sort of tunnel is a subterranean tunnel. These tunnels are essential for building their nests, storing food, and hiding from predators.

Depending on the species, squirrels live in trees, rocky outcrops, fields, pastures, and sparsely forested hillsides. Their living requirements include grassy regions such as pastures, golf courses, cemeteries, and parks. Some squirrels, like the ground squirrel, prefer to live on the ground and occasionally on the surface rather than in trees.

Gopher vs. Squirrel: Behavior

Gophers do not prefer to live in colonies. They are solitary creatures who live alone or in small groups. They are, however, willing to share their burrows with other animals. Gophers are active during the day, foraging for food outside their underground holes.

On the other hand, squirrels are social creatures residing in colonies of several dozen animals. They are particularly well-known for their tendency to stand on their hind legs when they detect imminent danger. The squirrel then curls its paws flat against its breast and emits a shrieking call to alert the rest of the family of the arrival of predators.

Gopher vs. Squirrel: Damage

Gophers burrow into the earth and feed on plants or grassroots, causing harm to plants. Their tunnels are also deep enough to cause damage to hidden wires, pipes, and cables. Gopher tunnels can be found under our driveways, cement slabs, and foundations, causing structural damage. Gophers loosen the soil as they move through it, creating an unattractive grid of tunnels across the grass that makes mowing difficult.

Ground squirrels specifically will cause damage to foundations, sidewalks, and pools by borrowing next to or under them. They might cause trip and fall risks by creating entrance and exit holes throughout your property. Damage to plants, fruits, and vegetables is an inconvenient and costly side effect of having ground squirrels on your premises.

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