Ground Squirrel vs Gopher: What’s the Difference?

Do you confuse ground squirrels with gophers in your yard or garden? Want info on wildlife management of these backyard pests? 

Well, here we’ve covered the topic of ground squirrel vs gopher extensively.

So, what is the difference between a ground squirrel vs gopher? In short, ground squirrels have long, bushy tails, while gophers have short, hairless tails. Ground squirrels have the perfect ability to climb trees and they prefer above-ground burrows. But gophers don’t climb trees and live underground in elaborate tunnel systems.

Now, there’s more to know about their differences. So, if you’re a homeowner, a landscaper, or a wildlife enthusiast, this article is for you.

Physical Characteristics Of Ground Squirrels And Gophers 

To compare ground squirrels and gophers, you’ll need to pay attention to their physical characteristics first. 

Physical Characteristics Of Ground Squirrels And Gophers

1. Size difference

Ground squirrels are typically smaller than gophers, with an average length of 8 to 12 inches. Whereas gophers can range from 5 to 14 inches in length.

2. Fur color

Ground squirrels often have a mixture of brown, gray, and black fur. But gophers have brownish-gray fur, sometimes with a reddish tint. 


3. Tails

The tails of ground squirrels and gophers vary in size and shape. 

Ground squirrels have bushy tails that can be up to 9 inches long. This helps them maintain balance while running and climbing. 

The bushy tail also serves as a communication tool, used for signaling to other ground squirrels and as a means of thermal regulation. 

Ground squirrels

On the other hand, gophers have shorter, less bushy tails that are typically only 3 to 6 inches long. Their tails are adapted for underground living. This allows them to navigate through narrow tunnels and make tight turns without getting stuck. 

In addition, gophers use their tails to push dirt out of their burrows and create mounds on the surface.

4. Hibernation

Ground squirrels hibernate during the winter months to conserve energy.

Contrarily, gophers do not hibernate. Instead, the gopher burrow systems are used for food storage and gophers rely on them during the winter. This can make them more active year-round compared to ground squirrels.

5. Predators

Ground squirrels are often preyed upon by birds of prey, foxes, and snakes. On the flip side, gophers are preyed upon by predators that can dig, such as badgers, weasels, and snakes.

Behavioral Differences Between Ground Squirrels And Gophers 

The behaviors of ground squirrels and gophers are always different. So, let’s talk about them:

1. Burrowing habits

Ground squirrels prefer to dig shallow burrows that are only a few feet deep, while gophers create complex underground tunnel systems that can span up to 200 feet in length. 

And Ground squirrels create a main tunnel that leads to several smaller tunnels branching off of it. They use the branch channels less frequently.

Ground Squirrels Burrowing habits

Likewise, gophers also create branch tunnels, but they frequently use them for sleeping, storing food, and raising their young. Gophers are also known for creating mounds of dirt outside of their burrows, which can be used to identify their presence in an area.

2. Feeding habits and food sources

Ground squirrel feeding habits indicate that they are herbivores and mainly feed on a diet of plants and seeds. They have a specialized diet that includes a variety of plants, such as grasses, clover, and alfalfa. They can consume up to 33% of their body weight in food each day. 

In contrast, gophers are omnivores and eat roots, bulbs, insects, and sometimes even small animals. They have specialized teeth and strong jaws that allow them to dig and gnaw through tough roots and tubers. Gophers can consume up to 60% of their body weight in food each day.

3. Grouping behavior

Ground squirrels are social animals and live in groups, called colonies, with up to several dozen individuals. They use vocalizations and body language to communicate with each other and establish dominance hierarchies. 

In addition, Ground squirrels are also known for their foraging and caching behaviors. They forage during the day, searching for food to eat and then cache it in their burrows to store for later use.

Gophers Grouping behavior

In contrast, gophers are solitary animals and only interact with other gophers during mating season. They use a variety of communication methods, including vocalizations, scent marking, and visual displays, to communicate with other gophers. 

Gophers are also known for their foraging and caching behaviors, but they do it primarily at night when they are most active. They use their burrows to store food and avoid predators.

Habitat Preference Of Ground Squirrels And Gophers

Ground squirrels and gophers have different habitat preferences. And this massively impacts their geographic distribution and interactions with humans.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into it:

Nature of habitat

Ground squirrels are commonly found in open grasslands, agricultural fields, and suburban areas. They prefer areas with a mix of grasses and forbs and access to water sources. 

In California, for example, ground squirrels can be found in grasslands and chaparral habitats, and they play an important role in maintaining these ecosystems by distributing seeds and providing food for predators. 

Ground Squirrels Nature of habitat

Ground squirrels are also found in other parts of North America, as well as in Asia and Europe.

Conversely, Gophers prefer more enclosed environments such as forests, meadows, and brushy areas. They are also commonly found in agricultural fields, as they are known to eat crops and other plants. 

Gophers are widespread throughout North America, from Canada to Mexico, and are found in other parts of the world as well.

Geographic Distribution

Most Ground squirrel species are primarily found in North America, but also in parts of Europe and Asia. 

Gophers Geographic Distribution

The California ground squirrel, for example, is found throughout California and other parts of the western United States. In contrast, the thirteen-lined ground squirrel is found in the central and eastern parts of North America.

Most Gopher species are also found primarily in North America, but they are found in other parts of the world as well. The pocket gopher, for example, is found in North America from Canada to Mexico, while the Russian desman, a type of gopher, is found in Russia and Ukraine.

Impact of Human Activity

Human activity can have both positive and negative impacts on the habitats of ground squirrels and gophers. 

For example, urbanization and agricultural development can destroy the natural habitat of both these species. 

This can limit the availability of suitable habitats for these species. So both ground squirrels and gophers are increasingly attacking household gardens, lawns, etc. 

On the other hand, artificial habitats created by humans, such as landscaped lawns and golf courses, can attract ground squirrels and gophers. These provide them with a food source and a place to live.

The use of pest prevention products such as pesticides and other chemicals in agricultural fields can also harm ground squirrels and gophers, as well as their prey and predators. 

If you’re trying to distinguish between ground squirrels and gophers, our article on ground squirrel vs gopher provides helpful tips and information. Additionally, if you’re dealing with a gopher infestation and need to get rid of them, our article on how to get rid of gophers offers various methods and tips for controlling these rodents. Finally, if you’re trying to determine whether you have rats or gophers in your home, our article on rat vs gopher provides guidance on how to tell these two pests apart. Check out our article on how to get rid of gophers for effective methods to control gopher populations, and our piece on rat vs gopher for information on how to identify these common household pests.


Now, in this subsection, let’s get to know some of the most frequently asked questions related to this topic:

Q: Can ground squirrels and gophers interbreed?

No, they cannot. Ground squirrels and gophers are different groups of rodents. Ground squirrels are members of the family Sciuridae and gophers are members of the family Geomyidae. 

Therefore, ground squirrels and gophers cannot interbreed because they are too distantly related.

Q: Are ground squirrels and gophers harmful to humans?

Yes. Ground squirrels and gophers can indeed be harmful to humans, but they are not usually aggressively dangerous. 

However, ground squirrels and gophers harbor diseases that fleas or bites can transmit to humans, pets, and other animals.

Ground squirrels and gophers can also cause damage to gardens, crops, lawns, irrigation systems, buildings, and roads. 

Q: How do ground squirrels and gophers differ in their impact on gardens and lawns?

Ground squirrels dig holes in lawns and gardens, weaken soil, and eat plants, flowers, and vegetables. Gophers primarily dig tunnels underground and feed on plants and roots. 

Q: What’s the safest way to remove ground squirrels and gophers?

Baiting and live trapping is the safest way for controlling these garden pests’ population. Depending on the soil types, many types of baiting (such as walnuts, almonds, oats, barley, carrot sticks, celery sticks and alfalfa) can be used to stop these rodents from foraging into your space.

You can also take help from pest control companies for controlling these animals.


Well, that’s all there’s to it, people. Now that hopefully you’ve got a clear understanding on this topic ground squirrel vs gopher. 

In essence, ground squirrels are smaller, have bushy tails, and prefer shallow burrows. They are diurnal and feed on plants and seeds. Gophers, on the other hand, are larger, have shorter and less bushy tails, and create extensive tunnel systems. They are primarily nocturnal, omnivores, and feed on roots, bulbs, and insects. 

Remember, identifying which species is causing damage is essential for developing appropriate control measures. For instance, using traps or bait stations for gophers may not be effective for ground squirrels, and vice versa.

So, we endorse you to further research on various pest control methods for each species. For that, you’re welcome to browse through other pages of our site right here. 

Thank you so much for dropping in today and you guys are the bee’s knees. Peace out!!!

Lisa G

Meet Lisa G, the founder and author of With over 3 years of experience studying and observing various species of rodents. Lisa has established herself as a credible expert in the field. Her passion for these often-overlooked animals shines through in her in-depth articles and engaging writing style. Follow her blog to learn fascinating facts and gain a new appreciation for the furry creatures that share our world.

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