Gophers and prairie dogs can be easily confused since they have similar appearances. However, gophers and prairie dogs are two distinct and different animals. The biggest distinction is their difference in size. Gophers are about half the size of prairie dogs.
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Gopher vs prairie dog
Gophers, commonly known as pocket gophers and prairie dogs, are often mistaken for one another. They are both small rodents that make burrows underground.
Both critters can be found across North America. They have similar body shapes with short limbs, small eyes, and small ears.
Even though gophers and prairie dogs look similar at first look, they are very different animals. Along with the differences in their taxonomy, gophers and prairie dogs differ in their habits and behaviors:
- Sleek tail
- Smooth fur that is dark
- Either brown, tan, or gray
- Live in many types of environments
- Eat inside their burrows
- Block their burrow entrances
- Solitary animal
- More likely to exit burrow at nighttime
- Reproduces year round
- Spend most of their time inside their burrows
- Mostly enjoy eating tubers, roots, and bulbs
- Have long claws used for digging
- Bushy tail
- Coarse fur that is light brown
- White or black patches on their heads
- Live in prairies and open grasslands
- Eat food while out of their burrows
- Leave their burrow entrances open
- Social animal
- More likely to leave burrow during daytime
- Has one mating season in the spring
- Spend majority of time outside their burrows
- Mostly enjoy eating grass
- Have strong arms used for digging
Is a prairie dog the same as a gopher?
Prairie dogs are not the same as gophers. Gophers belong to their own family, the Geomyidae family. Prairie dogs belong to the Sciuridae family, which is the squirrel family.
This means prairie dogs are more closely related to the common ground squirrel than gophers are. There are 41 different species of gophers and only 5 species of prairie dogs.
Which is bigger: A Prairie Dog or a Gopher?
Prairie dogs are usually significantly bigger than gophers. Prairie dogs are roughly the size of rabbits, while gophers are about half that size.
The main difference when comparing a gopher and a prairie dog is their size difference. Prairie dogs weigh between thirty-two to sixty-four ounces or two to four pounds.
Gophers usually weigh between three to five ounces, although some species of gophers can weigh up to two pounds. Prairie dogs are about twelve to fifteen inches long. Gophers are about six to eight inches long.
Because gophers are overall smaller than prairie dogs, their tails are also smaller than prairie dog tails. A gopher’s tail is about one to two inches long, while a prairie dog’s tail is about two to three inches long.
Identifying Gopher or Prairie Dog Damage
Gophers and prairie dogs cause damage to yards and gardens. They both dig underground burrows with complex underground tunnels. Creating these burrows results in entry holes in yards, and the tunnels can cause structural damage to buildings.
Both gophers and prairie dogs use cheek pouches to carry dirt to make their burrows. Holes that lead to their burrows will be surrounded by mounds of dirt. Unlike gophers, prairie dogs trim the grass that surrounds their burrow.
This is probably to help them watch for predators. Groundhogs and woodchucks are other wild animals that make burrows that look similar to gophers and prairie dogs. The damage these animals cause to homeowners makes them regarded as pests.
What do Gophers and Prairie dogs eat?
Both gophers and prairie dogs are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants. Gophers and prairie dogs eat bark on trees. This behavior can ruin the appearance of a homeowner’s trees.
Both of these critters also eat grass, shrubs, and garden crops. Gophers especially enjoy eating tubers, bulbs, and roots.
While prairie dogs will eat these parts of plants, prairie dogs mostly enjoy eating grass. Gophers will cause more damage to gardens, while prairie dogs will cause more damage to yards.