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The southeastern pocket gopher, Geomys pinetis, is also known as the sandy-mounder in Florida. Sandy-mounder has been modified into â€śsalamanderâ€ť in some local dialects in the Southeastern US. The pocket gopher is a rodent well adapted for its life underground. It has very small eyes and ears and large claws on its powerful front legs.
The term pocket refers to the fur-lined cheek pouches that the gopher uses to carry food.
The folk tale that it carries soil from the burrow in these pouches is false. The lips close behind the protruding chisel-like front teeth so the gopher can chew through dense soil or large roots without getting dirt in its mouth. The southeastern pocket gopher is tan to gray-brown in color. The feet and naked tail are light colored. The average total length (tip of nose to tip of tail) for an adult gopher is about 10 inches (25 cm), with a range of 9-12 inches (23-30 cm). Its tail averages about 3 inches (7.6 cm) in length.
Habitat: Pocket gophers use a variety of habitats. Plains pocket gophers live mostly in open areas such as prairies, meadows, pastures and other grasslands, cultivated fields of alfalfa and clover, and human-made habitats such as lawns, cemeteries, and playgrounds.
The pocket gopher feeds on the tap roots, crown roots, fleshy rhizomes, bulbs, and tubers of a wide variety of plants in its natural environment. Bahiagrass tubers appear to be a preferred food based on the contents of food caches. Gophers also have an unfortunate fondness for sweet potatoes, peanuts, sugarcane, alfalfa, and peas.
Damage and Control: Pocket gophers reduce the productivity of alfalfa fields and native grasslands on which they are found by 20 to 50 percent. If gophers are present on 10 percent of a field, they may reduce overall forage productivity of the field by 2 to 5 percent. Gopher mounds dull and plug sickle bars when harvesting hay or alfalfa. Gophers sometimes damage trees by girdling or clipping stems and by pruning roots. Gophers may, at times, destroy underground utility cables and irrigation pipes.
In retrospect, gophers are beneficial in several ways. Their burrowing activities increase soil fertility by adding organic matter in the form of plant materials and feces. Their burrowing increases soil aeration, increases water infiltration, reduces compaction, and increases the rate of soil formation by bringing up subsoil subjecting it to weatherization.
Gophers are not protected by state or federal laws. When selecting a damage-control program, consider nonlethal measures such as habitat modification or appropriate alfalfa varieties, which may be as cost effective as lethal measures and should minimize adverse environmental impacts. It is important to maintain biodiversity, or to retain the existing plants and animals that may later benefit humans and assist in maintaining ecosystem function.
Trapping: Trapping can be extremely effective on a small scale to remove any pocket gophers that remain after a control program, eliminate new infestations, reduce pocket gopher populations to acceptable levels, or eliminate pocket gophers from lawns and gardens in urban and rural areas. Pocket gophers are best trapped during spring or fall when they are most active. For trapping to be the most effective the main tunnel of an active burrow system needs to be located. Active tunnels can be found by locating a freshly-made soil mound. A metal probe or a shovel can be used to probe the fan-shaped plug side of the mound to locate the main tunnel.
Trapping in the main tunnel system is more successful then setting traps in the lateral tunnels. One trap should be placed into each end of the tunnel to catch the gopher coming from either direction. Trapping success may be enhanced by leaving the hole open to let in sun light to attract the gopher. Others have better success by covering the excavated hole with plywood or other suitable material. Traps should be secured by wire or chain to reduce the chance of predators taking them away or a pocket gopher carrying them into the tunnel. A small flag can be placed near the trap site to help relocate the traps. If the traps have not been visited within a 48 hour period then move the traps to a new location. After an animal is caught the traps can be removed and reset at another fresh soil mound.
Toxicants: The most economic and efficient method of controlling pocket gophers is to use toxic bait. Landowners who feel justified in using poison, find no legal restrictions to its use, and have no ethical qualms about introducing toxic chemicals into the environment will find several rodenticides available for use. The active ingredient in some is zinc phosphide (2%). This chemical reacts with the stomach acids and forms phosphine gas, killing the individual animal. No secondary poisoningsâ€”killing animals that may eat the carcass of the poisoned animalâ€”occur with zinc phosphide, making it safer than many other single-dose poisons. Anticoagulants also are available. These include chlorophacinone and diphacinone. Treated grain, such as milo or barley, or cut vegetables serve as bait.
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