What is this small mammal in our backyard?


we have a small mammal digging tunnels and popping up in our back yard. We want to know more about it but don’t know it’s name. Can you help? 

Julie, Montecito - April 8, 2020

Curator Response

Hi Julie,

Thanks for sending in this backyard sighting. I'm pretty confident that the critter captured in your photos is a Botta’s Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae). This species has in the past been called the Valley Pocket Gopher due to its preference for the deep loamy soils characteristic of valleys. The critter's larger overall size, brown color, and broad head suggests a gopher, and this is the only species of gopher found in this part of California. Although we also have moles in this area, moles tend to do most of their movement of soil to the surface at night, so it would be highly unusual to see a mole sticking its head out during the day. Our local Broad-footed Moles (Scapanus latimanus) also tend to be more gray in overall color, with narrow, pointed heads.

Thanks for clarifying by email that the bright spot around the hole is birdseed. It's interesting that the gopher is starting to dine on those, as they usually prefer tender roots. However, I suppose that most of us mammals, if we were lucky enough to emerge in the middle of a buffet featuring our second-favorite food, would do something similar.

Stay curious,

Curator of Vertebrate Zoology Paul W. Collins, M.A.