Gophers are omnivores but mostly herbivores. They eat plants, such as flowers, roots, and tubers. But gophers also enjoy grasses, fruits, and grains. Gophers don’t generally eat animals unless they need to survive in extreme conditions or if they are starving.
So, gophers are mainly herbivores that do to a lesser extent prey on smaller animals such as snails, earthworms, and other insects but only rarely eggs and smaller mammals. They will not be able to kill larger creatures like chickens or snakes and gophers are usually not aggressive towards humans or pets.
I have precious written a range of articles on groundhogs, and how they, depending on the season, eat insects as well as many garden plants, including flowers, tomatoes, onions, and numerous fruits.
Just like their bigger cousins the groundhogs or the prairie dog, gophers are mainly herbivores but the smallest of the three!
Whereas prairie dogs and groundhogs do eat animals if given the chance, the gopher is somewhat more reluctant, perhaps due to its smaller, less intimidating, size.
Whereas the groundhogs and gophers are in the same order (Rodentia – also known as rodents) making them evolutionary cousins, rather than siblings, gophers are more closely related to prairie dogs that belong to the same family (Sciuridae). Interestingly, squirrels do also belong to this family!
However, groundhogs are known to eat a larger proportion of insects than gophers likely to support their larger body size and energy requirements.
Otherwise, groundhogs and gophers both have very similar diets; the only difference being that the groundhog will eat more animal-derived foods and gophers will tend to eat more hard plant matter like roots.
Are gophers dangerous?
Because gophers are so small, generally weighing less than 2 lbs, they are no threat to humans or their pets.
They spend most of their time in the tunnels they dig, and would rather hide away than approach bigger animals as they are shy by nature.
Most cats and dogs are bigger than even the biggest gophers and will scare away the gopher if encountered in your backyard.
The biggest danger imposed by gophers may be through their potential as disease carriers as they can potentially spread pathogens such as plague, monkeypox, and rabies.
So we do recommend using thick gloves when handling gophers directly e.g. when caught in a live trap.
However, no case of disease transferred by a gopher to a human has been recorded to date, so the risk is very small.
Do Gophers Eat Snakes?
Snakes will eat gophers but the opposite isn’t true!
Snakes are too big to be preyed upon by gophers so gophers will generally leave snakes alone, even smaller ones.
Snakes are predators of gophers and will be able to subdue smaller rodents if they pose an immediate threat or are too slow to escape.
Snakes, such as the gopher snake will eat gophers – that’s how the snake got its name! And gophers, like other rodents having adapted to predation by snakes, are very afraid of snakes.
Gophers have been known to kill prey that is slower than them, such as snails.
Do Gophers Eat Chickens?
No, although they may break into a chicken enclosure to eat the chicken feed.
Gophers are too small and slow for chickens to be preyed upon by them. Chickens are not afraid of gophers and gophers are not afraid of chickens.
Chicken feed is usually grains that are high in protein, which attract gophers. Although gophers are herbivores and they do not like to eat meat, they will eat the food of meat-eating animals if it presents itself to them.
Do Gophers Eat Mice?
No, they do not eat mice. Only very rarely will they prey on young mice (venturing into their tunnels) if desperate for food, but they do not seek them out.
Mice and gophers are cousins which you might have guessed as they look like gophers but are smaller and with longer tails. In nature, closely related species do not usually prey on its other – gophers and mice are no exception.
Do Gophers Eat Rats?
No, gophers do not eat rats at all. Rats are too big to eat as a prey item for gophers.
Rats are rodents and gophers are too, and they can reach similar sizes and weight.
However, rats have sharp claws and are more aggressive than gophers, which makes gophers afraid of rats rather than the other way around!
Do Gophers Eat Grasshoppers?
Rarely. Grasshoppers can get quite large and are fast. In Extreme conditions, gophers may eat insects to survive. But there has been an occasion where a gopher was observed catching smaller grasshoppers while eating grass. Because grasshoppers can fly, it is not easy for gophers to catch them.
Do Gophers Eat Caterpillars?
Occasionally, caterpillars are soft-bodied so they are not a hard prey item for gophers to eat.
Caterpillars may be easier prey than grasshoppers; however, many caterpillars have toxic bristles/hairs so eating them may be unpleasant for the gopher, creating feedback in the gopher’s brain to avoid caterpillars.
The toxins in these insects are said to taste bitter at best and cause berating problems or death at worst.
Do Gophers Eat Worms?
Yes, and they may be the animal most eaten by gophers. Earthworms are great sources of nutrition for gophers to eat as a staple food source. They will often encounter earthworms while digging, making it an ideal source of protein for gophers.
Do Gophers Eat Snails?
Yes! Snails are generally slow so they would be easy prey for gophers to eat. As long as the snail doesn’t move quickly or retract into its shell, a gopher may easily lay a trap and catch a snail.
However, snails have tough shells so they are not a normal food source as the gopher has a hard time breaking the shell of snails. Slugs on the other hand, are easier prey for gophers.
Do Gophers Eat Birds?
No, although gophers have been observed climbing up trees to eat smaller birds’ eggs. It cannot feed on birds, even smaller ones like the robin.
They cannot eat birds since they fly away when approached by gophers and gophers are more scared of larger birds than the birds are of them.
Do Gophers Eat Eggs?
Smaller eggs, maybe. Gophers can’t do much damage to an adult bird but they will eat its eggs if the opportunity presents itself.
The only reason gophers would only feed on small eggs is because they are easier to carry in their mouths without hurting themselves or have less chance of being hurt by a larger egg. Bigger eggs like hens eggs are harder to carry and not often eaten by gophers.
Would Gophers Eat Each Other?
Generally, no, there are no observations recorded of cannibalism among gophers.
Gophers are solitary animals and do not form packs like coyotes or prairie dogs and do not often meet unless it is mating season.
They will fight each other during mating where males will fight other male gophers to mate with a female. But they will never eat their own kind.
If you are bothered by gophers in your backyard, check out this list of 10 effective ways to keep them out!
See my favorite three options below.
Here are a few of my favorite ways of keeping gophers out:
Like most animals, groundhogs hate surprises, and they will run away if suddenly sprayed with water. I like this solution because it is humane, simple, effective, and does not require much time to set up and there are many models to chose from.
The Havahart 5277 is a motion-activated sprinkler that is activated by the movement of animals up to 25 feet away and sprays them with a harmless water jet, frightening them off and keeping them at bay. The included metal stake makes it easy to install in your backyard, and the sprinkler can be rotated 180 degrees for maximum coverage.
Ultrasonic Sound Emitters
Groundhogs and gophers, as well as other animals that may invade your garden, tend to have very good hearing. This means that loud or consistent noises will scare them away or at least shorten their visits significantly!
One of my favorite technologies to keep pests away from my backyard is these cool solar-powered ultrasonic sound emitters that you can buy right off Amazon! In my experience, they really work, and the solar panels on top save you the time and money of changing batteries all the time.
Using Lights and Reflections
Groundhogs are nocturnal animals so they may avoid areas that have bright lights. Motion-activated lights, sounds, and sprinklers may help prevent groundhogs from entering your yard.
Placing CDs or tin foil and mirrors around your yard is another cheap and effective way to create light reflections that blind and scare groundhogs and gophers.
This may sound a little old-fashioned but it still works! The reflective surface of CDs or tin foil drives groundhogs crazy and will make them seek away from your plants.
You can use old CDs you no longer need or aluminum trays from takeaway containers, just make sure they reflect light well.
If you have a lot of plants to protect this way, it may be a good idea to invest in some commercial mirrors or electronic light emitters like the ones shown above.