Gopher vs. Groundhog: Which Burrowing Critter Is Invading Your Lawn and Garden?

There are some key differences in the size, appearance, behavior, and feeding habits of gophers and groundhogs. Here's how to tell these pests apart.

By Deirdre Mundorf | Published Jul 13, 2022 9:29 AM

gopher vs. groundhog

Photo: istockphoto.com

You might be wondering what animal is digging holes in your yard, or perhaps you even caught a glimpse of the animal but aren’t sure if it’s a gopher or a groundhog. This is understandable, since these two species are often confused with one another.

However, there are some distinct differences between the two animals. Understanding gopher vs. groundhog differences can help you properly identify the animal in question. Then, if desired, you can devise a humane plan to get rid of the groundhog or gopher on your property.

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Groundhogs (or woodchucks) are classified under the squirrel family, and gophers belong to the burrowing rodent family.

gopher vs. groundhog

Photo: istockphoto.com

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? You’re likely familiar with this tongue twister, but you may wonder about the differences between woodchucks, groundhogs, and gophers. Thankfully, the distinction of woodchuck vs. groundhog is simple: “woodchuck” is just a nickname for a groundhog. So if you’re curious as to whether a woodchuck is a groundhog, the answer is yes.

The first key difference between a gopher and a groundhog relates to their taxonomy. Groundhogs belong to the Sciuridae family, rodents which include chipmunks, prairie dogs, and squirrels. Gophers, on the other hand, are members of the Geomyidae family. Pocket mice, kangaroo mice, and kangaroo rats are a few members of this family of burrowing rodents.

There is some overlap in gopher and groundhog habitats, though they do not live in all of the same places. Groundhogs are native to North America, and they prefer wooded areas close to more open land. Meanwhile, gophers can be found across North and Central America. They prefer habitats where the soil is loose or sandy, which allows them to burrow and make tunnels.

Gophers are smaller than groundhogs in size and weight.

gopher vs. groundhog

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When you’re trying to distinguish between a gopher and a groundhog, one of the easiest ways is to look at the size of the animal. Groundhogs are much larger than gophers, both in terms of size and weight.

Groundhogs are typically between 17 and 24 inches long and weigh about 12 or 13 pounds. A groundhog also has a longer tail, which may add nearly 10 inches to its total length. Conversely, most gophers weigh under 2 pounds and are between 4 and 14 inches long, making them smaller than most rats.

Groundhogs have thick, furry tails and dark feet, while gophers have thin, sometimes hairless tails and pink feet.

If the size difference isn’t enough to help you answer the “is a gopher a groundhog” question, the two animals also have distinct appearances that make it easy to tell them apart. A groundhog has dark brown or black feet that more closely match the color of their fur. A gopher’s feet, on the other hand, are smaller, thinner, and pink.

The animals’ tails are also easy to differentiate. A groundhog’s tail is thicker and bushier, while the tail of a gopher is thin and often hairless, much like the tail of a rat.

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Gophers have large protruding teeth that can be seen even when their mouths are closed.

gopher vs. groundhog

Photo: istockphoto.com

Another key difference between gophers and groundhogs has to do with their teeth. A gopher’s teeth are larger and protrude from its mouth, whether it’s opened or closed. They often appear yellow or light brown in color, rather than white.

The teeth of a groundhog, meanwhile, remain hidden in its mouth when closed. If you’re able to catch a glance of a groundhog’s teeth, they’ll be much whiter than those of a gopher.

Despite their differences, both gophers and groundhogs have rodent teeth. This means their incisors, or front teeth, continue to grow throughout their life. Both animals must gnaw on things to wear down their teeth and prevent them from growing too long.

Groundhogs are herbivores, whereas gophers are omnivores.

Groundhogs are herbivorous, meaning they exclusively eat plants. Their diet typically consists of grass, clover, leaves, bark, daisies, fruits, and other plants.

Gophers are classified as omnivores, so they eat both plants and other animals. However, the typical diet of a gopher consists almost entirely of plants. They particularly enjoy the roots and tubers of plants but may also snack on plant tops. In most cases, a gopher will choose to eat earthworms, insects, or snails only if they are starving or unable to find their preferred food sources. They may occasionally try to kill small mammals or eat the eggs of another creature, but this behavior is unlikely.

Gophers build complex tunnels and burrows, while groundhogs spend most of their life aboveground.

Another important groundhog vs. gopher difference relates to where each animal can normally be found. Groundhogs spend most of their life above the ground, meaning you’re more likely to spot a groundhog outside your home, particularly in more densely populated areas. However, groundhogs do dig small tunnels or dens for sleeping or taking shelter from the elements.

In contrast, gophers spend more of their life underground. Their complex tunnels disturb the ground, leaving many homeowners searching for how to get rid of gophers. Gophers even dig different types of tunnels that serve unique purposes. For example, they create deeper tunnels for storing food, nesting, or elimination and shallower tunnels when foraging for food.

Gophers often produce more litters per year than groundhogs.

gopher vs. groundhog

Photo: istockphoto.com

Groundhog mating season occurs in the spring. Following hibernation, male groundhogs will search for the burrow of a female groundhog looking for a mate. Following a gestation period of about 32 days, a female groundhog will give birth to a litter of between two and six pups. Baby groundhogs are hairless and blind. They will reach maturity after about 3 months, at which time they will set off on their own. The average groundhog lifespan is between 3 and 6 years.

Gophers are much more prolific and may have up to three litters each year, if there is sufficient water in the area. Otherwise, they will have just one litter per year. They have a gestation period of about 3 weeks and give birth to a litter of five to six pups. The pups will receive care from their mother for a few weeks, then they will dig their own burrows. The average lifespan of a gopher is about 3 years.

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