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Pocket Gopher Vs Mole (11 Key Differences)

Pocket gophers and moles are both furry mammals that spend most of their time underground. If you’ve seen mounds of dirt in your garden, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with one of these two animals. Read on as we compare the pocket gopher vs the mole.

Pocket Gopher Vs Mole – 11 Differences

Usually referred to as “gophers,” pocket gophers are medium-sized rodents with stocky bodies, small ears, large paws, and short, hairless tails. Moles are small mammals with long, hairless snouts, velvet-like fur, and short arms. While there are 38 gopher species and 42 species of mole, there are still plenty of ways to tell these creatures apart.

1. They’re Not the Same Size

Mole and its tunnel
Mole and its tunnel | Image by Dirk (Beeki®) Schumacher from Pixabay

Pocket gophers tend to be quite a bit larger than moles. The average gopher is typically somewhere between 5 and 14 inches and weighs between 1 and 2 pounds. Moles, on the other hand, are usually anywhere from 4 to 7 inches long and weigh less than a pound.

2. Pocket Gophers Highly Evolved Lips

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

While moles and pocket gophers both spend a lot of time digging in the dirt, gophers have evolved in very interesting ways. Gophers often use their teeth to dig, which means dirt can easily build up inside their mouths. To prevent this, a gopher’s lips are actually located behind their teeth!

Even with their unusual lips, gophers still wind up with some dirt in their mouths. Thankfully, they can store some of that dirt in the pockets they have in their cheeks! Moles also use their mouths to dig through dirt, but because they have long snouts, they have more protection from the soil than gophers do.

3. Moles Look Like They Don’t Have Eyes

Captured Mole in the garden
Captured Mole in the garden | image by J Marsh via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

A mole’s eyes are so tiny that many people assume they don’t have eyes at all! Moles do have eyes, but their eyes are usually hidden behind their fur or skin. Although moles aren’t blind, they have poor vision and rely on other senses, like their sense of hearing and sensitive whiskers.

Moles primarily use their eyes to detect light. Gophers have much bigger eyes than moles do, but they also have very weak eyesight. Instead of depending on their eyes, they use their ears and sense of smell.

Like moles, pocket gophers also have sensitive whiskers that help them to navigate through dark environments.

4. They Eat Different Types of Food

Although pocket gophers and moles are both big eaters, they don’t enjoy the same kinds of foods. Gophers are herbivores that eat roots and plants above the surface. Sometimes, gophers bring plants underground and tend to them so that they have easy access to food.

Moles are omnivores that mostly feed on insects. Earthworms are a big part of a mole’s diet, as are foods like grubs and fungi. Some types of moles will also feed on fish, reptiles, and even other small mammals, including small rodents like mice.

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5. Pocket Gophers Store Food In Their Cheeks

Pocket Gopher eating
Pocket Gopher eating | image by Renee Grayson via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

When a gopher wants to carry food underground or save it for later, it can place it inside the pouches it has in its cheeks! Other rodents, like hamsters, also have cheek pouches, but a gopher’s pouches are actually built into their fur! These pouches extend from a gopher’s cheeks to its shoulders.

6. Some Moles Are Venomous

People usually associate venom with creatures like snakes and scorpions, but moles can be venomous too! There are species of mole, such as the European mole, that have toxic saliva. Moles can use this saliva to paralyze living prey and bring it back to their burrow.

Experts believe that moles evolved to be venomous so that they could easily capture prey. Although moles can have toxic saliva, they’re not a threat to humans. Many close relatives of moles, like shrews and hedgehogs, can also be carriers for toxins.

7. They Build Tunnels Differently

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

It’s actually possible to distinguish between a mole and a gopher without looking at either animal! Even though both of these animals spend the bulk of their time in underground tunnels, they build these tunnels in different ways.

When a mole is building tunnels, they use their paws to push the ground upward, creating round mounds of dirt. Pocket gophers tend to dump dirt out on the ground when they’re digging and close holes once they’re done.

While a mole’s tunnel can be up to 18 inches deep, gopher tunnels are typically a lot more shallow. Gophers also dig side tunnels that they can use to store food.

8. Pocket Gophers are the Speedier Animal

Gophers might not be known for their speed, but they can run pretty quickly if they need to escape predators. They can reach speeds of up to 16 MPH. Moles, however, can only run 4 MPH. That’s slower than the average mouse!

Moles might be slow, but they can move quickly when they’re tunneling underground. Since they’re able to dig through soil quickly, they can dig out up to 18 feet of tunnel space in just one hour! Pocket gophers can create several mounds of dirt per day, but they can’t dig quite as fast as a mole can.

9. Moles Are Incredibly Fast Eaters

Mole excavate its burrow
Mole excavates its burrow | image by Link576 via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Not only are moles fast tunnelers, but they’re also speedy eaters! In fact, the star-nose mole is the fastest eater in the entire world! When this mole finds prey, like a grub or an earthworm, it can gobble it down in a quarter of a second.

One study found that these moles can eat 10 chunks of earthworm in 2.3 seconds! While other mole species may not be able to beat that record, most moles can eat very quickly.

Since a mole can eat between 60 and 100% of its body weight in food per day, it has to be fast if it wants to have time to dig! When moles are awake, they spend almost all their time eating, digging, and hunting for food!

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10. They Live In Different Parts of the Globe

Pocket Gopher on the ground
Pocket Gopher on the ground | image by Cataloging Nature via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Moles and pocket gophers can both be found throughout North America, but they live in other parts of the world as well. Pocket gophers are native to North and Central America and are usually drawn to habitats that have loose and sandy soil.

Since gophers can affect the soil in their environment, they’re banned from entering some countries, like New Zealand. You can find moles on almost every continent, although they don’t live in South America or Antarctica.

Moles can thrive in many habitats, including woodlands, grasslands, and even urban environments. Many mole species can only be found in certain parts of the world.

11. Moles Can Be Semi-Aquatic

Gophers may spend most of their time beneath the earth’s surface, but they tend to stick to land. While this is true of most moles as well, it’s not the case for the star-nose mole. This unusual mole is semi-aquatic and actually spends a good portion of its time underwater!

The star-nose mole is known for its strange appearance, but it also has some very unusual abilities. It’s actually able to smell underwater by inhaling air and sending the scent back to the surface in a bubble! True to its name, it also has a star-shaped nose with 22 appendages.