Curious Gophers

Botta’s Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae) 2/5/22 Photo Gio Jordan
Botta’s Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae) 2/7/22 Photo Ethel Bond

Gophers spend more than 90 percent of their lives underground. But occasionally they get curious about the world up there and poke their heads out into the sun. The saying, “Curiosity killed the cat” applies very much to these smaller mammals. It’s at moments like these that big birds like Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets, not to mention various raptors, snatch them out of their subterranean existence. Luckily, these individuals only fell prey to hungry cameras. Gio Jordan noticed the one in the top photo on Saturday Feb. 5. Ethel Bond saw the one in the next photo two days later. They don’t seem to be the same gopher. The one on the left is much darker. Both of them surfaced just outside the artistic fence surrounding the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary.

I happened to see another one in the same location just a few days later three years ago. See “Gopher in the Sun,” Feb. 10 2019. At that time I passed along some intelligence on these creatures from Wikipedia. They’re known as Botta’s Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae). If you’re interested in more, please look up that earlier post. Do note the large and apparently uncovered ear openings. Since they can’t see anything underground, maybe they depend heavily on their hearing, like blind humans.

I wonder what it means that all three sightings, plus two others I heard about without images, took place in early February. Looking for mates? Checking the weather? Coincidence?

Congratulations to sharp-eyed park visitors Gio Jordan and Ethel Bond for spotting and photographing these tiny eruptions, and thank you for sharing.

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