Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Under Ground

My theme for the A to Z Challenge: Desert Canyon Living

When we first moved here our yard was overrun by rabbits, both cottontail and Jack rabbits, at least 20 to 25 were in our yard every day and many more all over the property. They had their warrens under the junipers and seemed to be healthy and thriving. Then they disappeared. We saw very few, even when we hiked. It was very strange and I have no explanation for it. For several years very few animals lived in our yard. Then this year, it exploded with activity. We had a mild and rainy winter, maybe that's why so many burrowing critters have decided to come and live under ground here. My husband dreams of a garden; I think we have our work cut out for us. 

Gophers make these mounds

and this year our yard is full of them. It will be difficult to mow even. I think many gophers will decide to leave once we start to work outside, mowing and trimming grass and weeds. Pocket gophers have pouches in their cheeks that are used for transporting food. I also learned that their lips can be closed behind their incisors so that they can use their incisors to loosen dirt and roots without getting their mouths full of dirt.

Here is that cute little gopher baby that popped up earlier this spring. 

This is a hole made by ground squirrels under some rocks in our yard. There are several entrances to their burrows around these rocks. 

This is the same rock that the sentry quail used for his lookout. It seems to function perfectly for this purpose. This California ground squirrel will sit up, pull his front legs up against his chest, and give warning if he senses any danger. 

This box sits away from the house and contains some leftover building materials. A family of ground squirrels has decided it makes for a safe and comfortable home. These photos of a mother and two or three youngsters are from last summer. I took it from inside the house and used both zoom and enlarged it to get something of a photo, and this is the best my camera and I could do.

Here she turns around. I have been spotted! Most ground squirrels hibernate during the winter months; these guys did not. Instead, they would come out on sunny days, even when snow was on the ground, and sit on the roof of their box home and sun themselves. 

Cute as these guys are, they do a tremendous damage to crops and gardens. They are also carriers of disease, including plague. We have a lot of ground squirrels right now. I will keep an eye on them and see how many will just move out after we become more present outside.

They have already figured out that the dogs are no threat while in their dog run. Samson and Soldier charge them a lot, barking fiercely, but the ground squirrels know they are safe and will only move away when I come out.

We have other holes as well, all kinds of holes. Some covered up with fine webs, belonging to tarantulas. You don't see them very often, but they live here too. Snakes and lizards take cover under ground as well. And then there are the ants, those nasty little ants with their distinctive holes, looking like doughnuts. If you consider they are such tiny little critters, the perfectly formed round mounds they make are pretty amazing. But they bite something fierce so they are not welcome here. It's still too cold for them, so I have no photos to share.

I imagine a network of tunnels and burrows down there, under ground, with animals sleeping, eating, mating, and raising their young while we walk in ignorance above. 

(I lost my formatting on this post and I don't have time to fix it. It's hard for me to let go when it doesn't look right, but maybe there is a lesson in there for me.)


  1. I have so many rabbits at my place that I can't plant a darn thing without them eating it! I read that rabbits won't eat Lavendar...the ones at my house do! They drive me nuts.

  2. Those squirrels may be nasty & carry diseases but they look adorable in your pictures! I never knew that about gopher's lips--do they have 2 sets of lips or only 1? You may think it's yours but you're really living on their land!

  3. Another interesting post. Boy, do I know gopher holes. When I bought the ranch, the gophers were all over. But as we became active around the land they moved further away. The kids used to pour water down the holes. Guess it drowned them. I set live traps... Always caught some.
    Yes, your bunnies will like a garden. :)

  4. We have gopher holes too. Our barn cat catches them periodically and the dogs keep busy with the squirrel holes. But you can't get rid of them completely. Squirrels are cute but they steal my fruit, vegetables and eggs.

  5. I really enjoyed reading that post. We have some many squirrels and they eat my garden every year. I use mesh; fence and everything suggested. I know call them suburban rats. I too stupidly started to feed them peanuts thinking they would leave our food alone. Not.
    I love all of your photo's and did get a bit teary when I saw Samson, because we lost our Faith who looked just like your guy a year ago. Now we have rescued two little brother yappers. I do love them but boy are little dogs different:)

  6. your little gophers and ground squirrels sure are cute, but i'm sure they are a nuisance too. we go through spurts of no rabbits at all, then we get more of them again. i always blame it on the coyotes.

  7. Amazing to think there is a whole other world living just beneath the surface. I tend to forget about that.

    Great post and photos, Inger.

  8. Tarantulas too, huh? I'd be terrified!!

    I love how you write about the underground life of these critters. Once again, another great post and lots of wonderful pictures.

  9. Very interesting post! I know gophers have their place in the eco system but I'm not fond of them, ie, the diseases they carry and the damage they do. I'm just beginning to warm up to squirrels after one dug up and stole 40 of my tulip bulbs (and they were planted deep.)

  10. The population of ground squirrels has exploded here too. I thought it was because Clifford the big red dog isn't here to scare them away - maybe the mild winter contributed.

  11. My imagination tells me that they are sitting down with their little feet propped up after a hard day of digging! ...LOL!...:)JP

  12. wow! check out those cheeks! what that little guy could do with a trumpet...

    tarantulas? you've reminded me why i live in a colder climate. ;o)

  13. Your ground squirrels are cute. Ours are different than yours... they are cute, too. But, like yours, they do a tremendous amount of damage. I have two bushes they killed this winter... or maybe the pocket gophers did. Grrr..

  14. Oh, I forgot to mention that we had varying rabbit populations in SC. It seems that the population would build until we were almost overrun with them. They were very bold and acted like they owned our yard. Then, fox and bobcat would come into the area for a year or two and the population would dwindle. It was interesting to live there for over 20 years to see the 'cycle of life'

  15. Gophers are cute, but make such a mess!

  16. I did not realize that cotton tails are real, I thought that it was a fictional name in Peter Rabbit. I am learning so much. Wow!

  17. Inger, I continue to love your A-Z posts! This one is really interesting...I had no idea that ground squirrels carried the plague...

  18. Well the ground critter all have their place in the scheme of things and I am very tolerant of them. Also I happen to love tarantulas. None of them up here in AK however too cold.

  19. Gophers? Maybe that's what we have, or maybe ground squirrels. I've seen some holes.
    As for the cotton tails, a lot.
    Great post Inger, very informative.


Thanks for leaving a comment.. ~~ Inger


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