odd underground creature

Asked May 13, 2016, 5:07 PM EDT

We have a parcel of land in coastal Mendocino Co., Calif. that we have homesteaded these past 10 years. Pocket gophers are an ongoing problem and we try to control them in our garden area and around our home. I have killed many in my traps and am quite good at nailing them. Occasionally there is a critter that lives underground that gives me fits. It may not be a pocket gopher. Having never seen one, the only distinguishing features I can describe are their 'mine tailings'. This animal does not build typical mounds here and there and everywhere like a pocket gopher while digging tunnels and doing housekeeping. It pushes the spoils into one huge pile and closes the portal behind itself each time. After a while the tailings can be significant. I have a pump box that had a dirt floor. After removing a couple of wheelbarrows full of soil from the pump box several times, I 'rat proofed' it with some concrete. That solved the problem and the critter must have moved on. This animal shows no other evidence of existence; no other obvious openings or mounds except the one tailing point. But it moves so much soil that I fear a sink hole will appear one day that is big enough to swallow our car. When I am able to find the tunnel at the head of these piles of soil (not always easy), it is small and diameter like a gophers tunnel would be. And, it is packed solid as far back as a foot or more. This is not typical pocket gopher tactics. What could it be?

Mendocino County California

6 Responses

When I lived in Mendocino County (Hopland), I had moles and gophers in my yard. Could it be moles? You won't catch them in Macabee traps (I don't know what kind of trap you are using).


No, I don't think we are dealing with a mole. We have moles active here from time to time and I have seen how the operate. This is a prodigious excavator that is creating a large underground matrix of tunnels and dens. What makes it distinctive from a pocket gopher is that it always returns to the same entrance to dispose of digging spoils, which if you think about it, is very un-gopher like. I use Victor black box traps and Trap Line wire traps with reasonable success. But these guys defy the traps. It is often difficult to impossible to find the entrance for all the soil.

I've sent this description to a few other people. I'll let you know. How about a photo of the mound?

I've received this response from a colleague:

Still seems to me that it would be a gopher or mole. Gophers will sometime continually use certain burrow entrances for an extended period of time for large-scale continual excavations. I see this in certain areas. These mounds can be large enough that it would take several trips with a wheelbarrel to dispose of the dirt. These sites are associated with more permanent portions of a burrow system, presumably leading to nesting chambers. Tunnels associated with these mounds are often at a very steep angle, disappearing to pretty substantial depths quite rapidly. This seems like the most likely explanation, but who knows. There are also up to 3 species of moles in that area. Could be that a different mole species might create a larger mound???? I haven’t done much work with moles, but the moles I have seen have not typically created mounds of that size, so this seems somewhat less likely.

I sure don't know. After digging in and opening up the tunnel a couple of times, this critter has gone quiet. His/her tailings only amounts to a large wheel barrow load. But as I mentioned I have had others that filled several. Thanks for the information. I have been doing gopher patrol for several years now Using the same burrow entrance to dispose of that much soil is unusual gopher behavior in my book. I have noticed that not all gophers are not dumb enough to get snagged in my traps and some are very cautious, if not smart. Some I call "deepsters" as their tunnels go down steep and deep and others I call "shy" because their burrow entrances are filled just flush with the ground. The ones that are actively digging and making mounds are the easiest to trap. I have better than an 80% kill rate on those. Moles I don't mind as much as we don't have a golf course and, from what I have read, they won't eat our artichokes. -NIcholas

Let me know if you ever get a capture. You might want to try a different trap with this particular animal, if it is a gopher (http://gophertrapping.com/).

Good luck!