Moles, pocket gophers, ground squirrels and prairie dogs are all animals that live in underground burrows and may damage your yard or garden.
You can use different methods to help get rid of these pests, but before you start, it’s important to know which animal is damaging your yard, so you’ll know what approach to take. Here’s how to tell the difference between moles, pocket gophers, ground squirrels and prairie dogs.
Moles are about 6 inches long, with soft brownish-grayish fur with silver highlights. They have enlarged, paddle-like forefeet and prominent toenails that allow them to dig through the soil. They don’t have external ears, and their eyes are tiny.
Moles are mostly solitary creatures that spend most of their lives in their underground burrows. You’ll rarely see them, but you will see their raised ridges (aka surface tunnels) and volcano-shaped mounds. Moles have big appetites and can eat 70 to 80 percent of their body weight every day. They feed during the day and night, eating insects, spiders, earthworms and white grubs. Mole burrows may cause damage in your yard, disfiguring your lawn, destroying your flowerbeds and tearing up the roots of your grass.
Pocket gophers are 6 to 10 inches long, with external cheek pouches — or pockets — for carrying food or nest materials. Pocket gophers have sharp-clawed front paws, short fur, small eyes and ears and facial whiskers that help them move in the dark. They can close their lips behind their teeth to avoid getting dirt in their mouth when they use their teeth for digging.
Pocket gophers are active during the day and at night. You’ll know you have pocket gophers when you see their mounds (horse-shoe or crescent-shaped when viewed from above), formed when they push the loose dirt to the surface while tunneling. They may cause damage in your yard and garden, where they eat garden crops, ornamental plants, shrubs and trees.
Ground squirrels’ bodies are 9 to 11 inches long, with bushy tails adding another 5 to 9 inches to their length. They have brownish-gray, speckled fur with white along their backs.
Ground squirrels are active only during the day. They forage for food near the entrance to their burrows. Ground squirrels damage many plants, including grains, nut and fruit trees, vegetables, shrubs and other trees. They may chew on plastic sprinkler heads and irrigation lines. Though ground squirrels don’t typically enter homes, they may burrow under your patio, stairs or foundation, causing structural damage.
Prairie dogs are 14 to 17 inches long with reddish-tan fur, large eyes, short ears and broad, round heads. Prairie dogs were named because of the chirping barks they use to warn each other about predators. They live in the grasslands of central and western North America.
Prairie dogs are social animals that live in families called coteries, consisting of one adult male prairie dog, a few adult females and their young offspring. Some prairie dogs, including the black-tailed prairie dog, live in colonies called towns. Prairie dogs are active only during the day. They mostly eat grasses, flowering plants, roots and seeds but will also eat insects. Prairie dogs’ burrows have mounds of packed earth at the entrances, where they use the extra height to watch for predators. Prairie dogs trim the tall grass surrounding their colony, probably so they can better see approaching predators. They can damage crops and pastures, and they can carry fleas that transmit the plague pathogens.
https://naturalhistory.si.edu/mna/image_info.cfm?species_id=54 (prairie dog appearance and behavior)
https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/black-tailed-prairie-dog (habitat, behavior, lots of info)
https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/what-do-about-prairie-dogs (damage crops, carry fleas that transmit plague)
http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7438.html (ground squirrels)
http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7433.html (pocket gophers)