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Gopher Vs Prairie Dog (Main differences)

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Gophers and prairie dogs look very similar, so it is no surprise that the two animals are commonly mistaken for one another. They are both rodents that burrow underground, but although they look similar, they have very distinct differences. This article will compare the gopher vs the prairie dog and highlight the differences between these two creatures.

Gopher vs Prairie Dog: 9 Differences

1. Gophers and prairie dogs are members of different family classifications.

Botta's Pocket Gopher
Botta’s pocket gopher | image by Chuck Abbe via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Gophers and prairie dogs belong to two different families. Gophers are members of the Geomyidae family, which includes at least thirty-five different species.

Prairie dogs are members of the Sciuridae family. While the Sciuridae family includes other species, such as squirrels, there are only five different species of the prairie dog.

2. Gophers and prairie dogs are of different sizes.

Gopher sitting on the ground
Gopher sitting on the ground | image by Airwolfhound via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Prairie dogs and gophers differ in size. Prairie dogs are similar in size to rabbits, measuring between twelve and sixteen inches in length. Gophers are about half that size, measuring around six to eight inches in length.

3. Gophers and prairie dogs have different tails.

Prairie dog walking on the ground
Prairie dog walking on the ground | image by Amy the Nurse via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Gophers may be smaller, but they have longer tails than prairie dogs. A gopher’s tail measures up to two inches long, while prairie dogs have much shorter tails. In addition to this size difference, a gopher’s tail has little to no hair, while a prairie dog’s tail is bushy.

4. Gophers and prairie dogs live in different environments.

Since gophers spend most of their time underground, they can survive in many places as long as there is plenty of vegetation to eat and plenty of soil to dig into. Gophers can be found throughout North and Central America. Prairie dogs live on vast grasslands and, as their name suggests, prairies. They can be found in some areas of North America.

5. Gophers and prairie dogs have different social behaviors.

Prairie dog senses danger
Prairie dog senses danger | image by b d via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

A significant difference between gophers and prairie dogs is their social behavior. Prairie dogs are very social creatures, living in family groups called towns. In these towns, prairie dogs work together, share food, groom one another, and help protect each other from predators.

Conversely, gophers tend to be solitary creatures. They prefer to live alone but come together during the mating season.

6. Gophers and prairie dogs are not active at the same times.

Pocket Gophers
Pocket Gopher | image by sfbaywalk via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Prairie dogs and gophers come out at different times of the day. While gophers tend to spend their days inside their burrows and are rarely seen above ground during the day, prairie dogs are most active during the day. You will often see groups of prairie dogs above ground foraging for food during the day.

7. Gophers and prairie dogs have different front paws.

Gopher standing in grass field
Gopher standing in grass field | image by TomH2323 via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Gophers have long claws used for digging underground. Prairie dogs also dig underground but lack the gopher’s long claws. Instead, prairie dogs have strong, muscular arms to help them dig.

8. Gophers and prairie dogs have different fur.

Gophers have smooth fur that is typically dark brown, tan, or gray. Prairie dogs have much coarser fur that is a lighter brown. They often have white or black patches on their heads.

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9. Gophers and prairie dogs have different diets.

Prairie dog eating stem on the ground
Prairie dog eating stem on the ground | image by Hans Splinter via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Prairie dogs and gophers are both herbivores but prefer eating different things. Prairie dogs like to eat grass, seeds, flower buds and blossoms, fruit, and cacti. Conversely, Gophers like to eat tubers, bulbs, plant stems, and tree roots.

What is a Gopher?

Gopher resting on the grass field | Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Gophers are small, furry members of the Geomyidae family. They build large networks of tunnels in the ground and are primarily found in North America. They are commonly known as “pocket gophers” because of their prominent cheek pouches used to carry food.

Gophers can turn their pouches inside out like the pockets in a pair of pants. They do this to remove whatever they have stuffed inside. Gophers are solitary creatures, choosing to live alone except when it is time to breed.

What is a Prairie Dog?

White-tailed Prairie Dogs sitting on sand
White-tailed Prairie Dogs sitting on sand | image by USFWS Mountain-Prairie via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Despite their name, prairie dogs are not dogs but are actually related to squirrels. They are members of the same family as squirrels: Sciuridae. Prairie dogs are small, brown rodents that live in groups in elaborate underground burrows.

Prairie dogs got their names from the fact that they tend to live on prairies, and they make a series of yipping and barking sounds that sound like a dog. They are highly social animals, choosing to live in groups called towns.

Prairie dogs have a very advanced communication system. Their series of yip and barks aren’t just chatter but a whole language with various meanings.


Gophers and prairie dogs are both rodents that burrow into the ground. They have many similarities but also have significant differences.

From size and habitat to social behavior and diet, these two furry creatures are two entirely different species. Next time you see a small, brown rodent coming out of a burrow, consider these facts and see if you can figure out if it’s a gopher or a prairie dog.

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