Mole vs Gopher: 7 Key Differences Explained

Written by Patrick Sather
Published: September 5, 2021


If you ask most people to think of gophers, their thoughts will turn to the lovable rodent from the 1980 cult-comedy, Caddyshack. The film used an animatronic puppet rather than a real gopher, but the likeness is still fairly accurate. Meanwhile, if you ask someone to name a famous mole, they’re most likely to name the character from the classic book, The Wind in the Willows. Over the years, both gophers and moles developed reputations as pests that can ruin your lawn or garden. However, by comparing these subterranean mammals, it’s easy to notice several key differences between the two species. In this article, we’ll pit gophers vs moles to see how they measure up and explain 7 key differences between them.

Comparing moles and gophers

Gophers comprise roughly 35 different species. However, scientists consider the species referred to as pocket gophers, or simply gophers, as the “true gophers.” They belong to the family Geomyidae, although the ground squirrels of the family Sciuridae occasionally share the title gopher as well. 

Meanwhile, researchers categorize the “true moles” as those belonging to the family Talpidae. The family comprises 51 species and three subfamilies, with the moles belonging to the subfamily Talpinae most often given the moniker of simply mole. This subfamily includes moles, shrew moles, and desmans. While shrew moles and desmans deserve recognition, they are not the subject of this article. Rather, we’ll be referring to the European mole, or common mole, during our comparison. However, here is a brief description of the differences between moles, shrew moles, and desmans.

Moles

Includes both New and Old World genera. Found throughout Europe, Asia, and North America.

Shrew Moles

Includes the Asian shrew moles and American shrew mole, which is the smallest mole species. The Asian shrew moles are distributed throughout China, Taiwan, India, and Southeast Asia. 

Desmans

One of two species of aquatic moles native to Russia and the northwest Iberian peninsula and the Pyrenees. Unlike other moles, their webbed feet adapted for diving underwater rather than digging tunnels underground.

MolesGophers
Size4 to 7 inches long
2.5 to 4.6 ounces
6 to 8 inches long
0.5 to 2.2 pounds
Lifespan3 to 6 years1 to 3 years
GeographyNorth America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia
Resides in grasslands, sand dunes, wooded areas
North and Central America
Resides in woodlands, forests, plains, meadows, grassy areas
TaxonomyOrder: Eulipotyphla
Family: Talpidae
Order: Rodentia
Family: Geomyidae
BodyBrown, grey, or golden fur
Small eyes and pointed snout
Reduced hindlimbs and short, powerful forelimbs 
Extra thumb 
Normally brown
Large cheek pouches that can turn inside out
Use their teeth and claws to move soil
DietWorms, insects, grubsRoots, shrubs, vegetables
TunnelsLocated 3 to 12 inches below ground
Tunnels extend 1 to 2 acres
Nesting areas 3 feet below ground
Cone-shaped mounds
Located 6 to 18 inches below ground
Tunnels extend 200 to 2,000 square feet
Nesting and food storage as deep as 6 feet
Crescent-shaped mounds

The 7 Key Differences Between Moles and Gophers

Mole vs Gopher: Size

Upon measuring the two species side-by-side, it’s easy to see that gophers tend to appear larger than moles. The average gopher measures 6-8 inches long, while the average mole reaches only 4-7 inches long. In addition, gophers usually weigh more than moles. Most gophers weigh between 0.5-1 pound, but especially large species can reach up to 2.2 pounds. Meanwhile, moles weigh much less, usually only 2.5-4.6 ounces, or 0.25 pounds. 

Mole vs Gopher: Lifespan

While gophers may grow larger than moles, they tend to not live as long in the wild. Usually, gophers will live between 1-3 years in the wild. However, some records indicate specimens living up to 5 years. Moles, on the other hand, can live anywhere from 3 to 6 years in the wild. While small, the difference is noticeable, but may disappear in controlled environments. 

Mole vs Gopher: Geography

Of the two species, moles are more widely distributed. Their range includes every continent on Earth excluding South America and Antarctica. Meanwhile, gophers’ native habitat includes only North and Central America. However, while their ranges differ, they tend to live in similar habitats. They both love wooded areas, forests, plains, and grasslands, but moles will also take up home in sand dunes. 

Mole vs Gopher: Taxonomy

Many people mistakenly believe that both moles and gophers belong to the rodent family due to their similar appearance and penchant for digging tunnels. However, between the two, only gophers belong to the order Rodentia. Meanwhile, moles belong to the order Eulipotyphla. This means that moles bear more in common shrews, while gophers share similar traits with pocket mice and kangaroo rats

Mole vs Gopher: Body

Among the most notable differences between moles and gophers is in their body shape and composition. Moles possess short, velvety fur that ranges in color from brown to grey to golden. Their small eyes and pointed snout give them a pinched look. Although their hindlimbs appear small, their powerful forelimbs allow them to dig 15 feet per hour. In addition, they possess a sixth thumb which aids them in their digging. While gophers generally appear brown, their color varies depending on the color of the soil where they live. They possess large, fur-lined cheeks which they use to remove dirt when building their tunnels. This is where they get their name “pocket gophers.” 

Mole vs Gopher: Diet

Another major difference between moles and gophers concerns their diet. While moles are omnivores, gophers are herbivores. Moles primarily subsist on earthworms, insects, and grubs. Gophers’ favorite foods include shrubs, roots, and vegetables. They will also graze on seeds and grasses if no other food is available. Their penchant to snack on vegetables is one of the reasons why many gardeners consider them pests. 

Mole vs Gopher: Tunnels

While moles and gophers both dig subterranean tunnels, their tunnels appear quite different. Moles dig tunnels much closer to the surface, usually between 3-12 inches below the ground. For their tunnels, gophers tend to dig between 6-18 inches below ground. This tendency to dig deep explains why gophers’ nests and food storage chambers can go as deep as 6 feet, while mole nests typically rest only 3 feet below ground. However, what moles lack in depth they more than makeup for in size. While gopher warrens usually span between 200-2,000 square feet, a mole’s territory can stretch for 1-2 acres or over 80,000 square feet. Lastly, the mounds created by the two animals look very different. Gophers create crescent-shaped mounds, while moles create cone-shaped mounds. This conical shape is where the expression “make a mountain out of a molehill” originates. 

Frequently Asked Questions on the Differences Between Moles and Gophers

Do moles and gophers live in groups or alone?

Moles and gophers are both solitary animals. Outside of the breeding season, they tend to live alone. They can act very territorial, especially around same-sex members of their own species. However, both creatures will occasionally share their tunnels with other creatures. In addition, because of their expansive territories, multiple moles sometimes end up sharing the same tunnel system. 

Do moles and gophers hibernate?

Neither moles nor gophers hibernate. On the contrary, they are both active throughout the year. 

Are moles and gophers nocturnal?

It’s a common misconception that moles sleep during the day and hunt at night. This may be due to the fact that molehills can “spring up” during the night. However, both moles and gophers tend to be active during the day and sleep at night.