I admit it. I like gophers.

Our so-called Minnesota gophers are also known as 13-lined ground squirrels.

They are animals of the Great Plains and prairie regions of the central United States and south-central Canada. Clearing land for farming has opened up new territory for gophers, and their range has expanded, especially eastward, during the last century and a half. Where they are abundant, 13-lined ground squirrels may number from five to 20 per acre. Soil type, which determines the kind of vegetation and the ease of burrowing, affects their number and distribution.

I have been criticized occasionally for acknowledging that I like gophers, but I have been intrigued by their behavior for the past 40 years. I like to hear their birdlike, high-pitched, trilling alarm calls, so frequent while they keep a sharp watch for enemies over the grasslands. They stand upright, forelegs pressed against their bodies, hind legs and tails forming tripods to support their backs.

Grasshoppers are a favorite prey of gophers, and they pursue them with swift, catlike leaps. About half the diet of gophers consists of insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars and beetles. Most of the damage they inflict on newly planted seeds and sprouting crops occurs in spring when few insects are available. Their fondness for insects prevents grasshoppers and other insects from multiplying into hordes.


Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.