Gophers Vs Groundhogs: Are they The Same Or Not?

by | Gophers, Groundhogs, Rodents

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If you’re here then you’re probably wondering if there’s a difference between gophers and groundhogs, and if there is – how do you tell the difference?

Gophers and groundhogs are both burrowing rodents, but they’re not the same animal. Gophers are smaller, with light paws and wire-like tails, often looking more like a rat. Groundhogs have dark paws and flat, furry tails.

The good news is that there are six ways to tell the difference between gophers and groundhogs, which we’ll cover in this guide. By the end of it, you’ll easily be able to tell the difference between the two animals and know exactly what you have in your yard.

How to tell the difference between gophers and groundhogs

Photo of a gopher and a groundhog side by side
The animal to the left in this picture is a gopher and the animal on the right is a groundhog.

Here’s exactly how to tell the difference between a gopher and a groundhog:

Gophers are smaller than groundhogs

Gophers are usually smaller than groundhogs. Most gopher species grow to a maximum length of 8” (20 cm) and are normally only 3” (8 cm) wide. Groundhogs are usually much larger, growing up to 20” long (51 cm).

Gophers are not very heavy, weighing only half a pound (230 g), but groundhogs are much heavier with an average weight of around 8 lbs (4 kg).

Knowing that gophers are much smaller than groundhogs can help you to identify the animal in two ways:

  1. If you can see the animal, guess its weight and size to tell if you are looking at a gopher or a groundhog.
  2. If you don’t see the animal but you can see the entrance to its underground tunnel, measure the width of the entrance. A tunnel’s entrance is built to fit the animal that builds the tunnel, so if the entrance is about 4” (10 cm) wide, it probably belongs to a gopher. An entrance greater than 8” (20 cm) most likely belongs to a groundhog.

In fact, predators use tunnel entrances to enter tunnels or dig out gophers and eat them. Click here for the full list of animals and birds that eat gopher.

Groundhogs have dark paws and gophers have light paws

Gophers and groundhogs have different colored feet. Groundhogs have dark brown or black paws, with four fingers and curved claws. Gophers often have small pink, beige, white, or gray feet, with four toes and claws for digging.

It isn’t always easy to see an animal’s feet, especially when it spends most of its time in tunnels underground.

If you do get to see the feet, remember that they can be stained by wet or dark and loamy soil. So if the animal you’re looking at has dark feet, you might just be looking at a gopher with dirty feet after pulling your plants into their burrow!

Groundhogs have paddle tails, gophers have wire-like tails

You can tell the difference between a gopher and a groundhog by looking at their tails.

Groundhogs have short, broad, fur-covered tails that look like paddles. These tails help them swim and keep their balance, especially when climbing trees. Their tails also act as a “broom” that the groundhog uses to move soil around in its burrow.

A gopher’s tail is much weaker, smaller, and balder than a groundhog’s. In fact, most gophers have hairless tails that are wire-like or look like a cord. Their tails aren’t as coarse or as thick as a rat’s tail, but they sure are similar.

Groundhogs are omnivores, gophers are herbivores

In this picture, you can tell the difference between a gopher and a groundhog. Gophers are smaller, with light paws, a wiry tail, and they only eat plants. Groundhogs are bigger, with dark paws and paddle-like tails. Groundhogs are omnivores that eat meats and plants.

You should be able to tell if you have gophers or groundhogs by keeping an eye on what the animals are eating and the clues they leave behind.

Being rodents, gophers and groundhogs have front teeth that never stop growing (just like rats). Both must spend a lot of time chewing on things to wear down their teeth, or their teeth will grow too long and they won’t be able to eat, slowly starving to death.

This is one of the reasons why gophers and groundhogs like to chew on firm, fresh fruits and vegetables with hard skins. Gophers tend to leave deep, narrowly spaced rows of gnaw marks on these foods. Gophers, being smaller, don’t leave deep marks or cause as much damage as groundhogs.

Gophers are herbivores and eat only plants. Groundhogs are omnivores that eat things like:

A gopher will only ever leave signs of having eaten plants in your yard. A groundhog might leave an apple core, a trail of inedible fruit skin, or a few bones lying about.

Gophers are found in more areas, groundhogs are in the east

If you know you aren’t dealing with mice or rats, you can narrow down the possible culprits (groundhogs or gophers) by remembering where you are, because gophers and groundhogs live in very different places and are rarely ever in the same place.

If you live anywhere northeast of Missouri, you probably have groundhogs. If you don’t live in the eastern United States, there’s a good chance you have gophers.

Here’s why…

Groundhogs like to live in woodland environments with mild temperatures. This is why you find groundhogs throughout the eastern United States, in most Canadian provinces, and even in some of the easternmost parts of Alaska.

Unlike groundhogs, which are a distinct species on their own, gophers are made up of 35 species, and each gopher species thrives in a different region. In fact, you probably won’t ever see a gopher in the eastern United States.

Gophers are far more widespread than groundhogs. For example, the southeastern pocket gopher lives in the southern United States, in states with sandy soil like Florida. The northern pocket gopher is found throughout many of the southwestern Canadian provinces and all of the western United States.

Groundhogs look like squirrels, gophers look like rats

A major difference between gophers and groundhogs is their family tree. Gophers and groundhogs belong to the same scientific order, Rodentia, but they don’t belong to the same scientific family.

Gophers belong to a family called Geomyidae. Groundhogs belong to a family called Sciuridae, which consists mainly of squirrels. The Sciuridae family gives us clues on how to tell groundhogs from gophers.

In many ways, groundhogs look like beavers or squirrels. They have medium-length brown fur, fluffy tails, and large, rectangular bodies.

On the other hand, gophers look more like giant rats, with smaller rounded bodies, short gray or sand-colored fur, and hairless tails.

If you want to know if you are looking at a gopher or a groundhog, try to see what the animal reminds you of – a squirrel or a rat.

How to get rid of gophers and groundhogs

Below is a carefully selected list of the best products from Amazon and recommended methods to get rid of gophers in your yard:

  • Scare away gophers and groundhogs with sonic pulses in your yard using these waterproof sonic spikes from Amazon. Just push the spikes into damp soil, and each stake will scare away gophers for up to 7,500 square feet with sonic pulses every 30 seconds.
  • Gophers are repelled by the smell, taste, and feel of these castor oil pellets from Amazon. Simply spread the granules wherever there’s soil, such as on your lawn or in your flower beds, and water to help the granules soak into the ground.
  • If you have the space and lots of gophers in your backyard, try to attract barn owls to your property. They love to eat gophers. Put up a nesting box to give the owls somewhere safe to live. Place the nest in an open area, where there aren’t a lot of trees growing. The nest needs to be at least 15 feet high, with the opening protected from the sun and wind.

I'm Monique. I love gardening and spending time in my backyard growing things. Here's where I share what I know about backyard pests and what to do about them, so you can enjoy your yard too.

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Monique loves gardening and spending time in her backyard, where she grows flowers, succulents, herbs, fruits, and vegetables.

Monique spends a lot of time researching how to protect her backyard from harmful pests and trying to attract beneficial insects and animals.

She shares everything that she learns and tests here at Backyard Pests.