Most people are extremely aware of how destructive and troublesome gophers are in lawns and ornamental plantings. Many gardeners and landscapers use traps to deal with the problem, but this method is time consuming and sometimes ineffective-especially in severely infested areas.
Gophers are rodents and strict herbivors. They eat a variety of plants, roots, stems, bark, fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts.
Gophers dig extensive underground tunnel systems complete with main tunnels, nesting chambers, food storage chambers, and fecal chambers. When the gopher is extending his tunnel system the excess dirt is pushed out in horseshoe or volcano shaped mounds. Gopher dirt has a characteristic, finely pilled texture that is unique to the species.
When a gopher breaks the surface to feed, he will plug the hole up when finished. This mound may barely rise above the level of the surrounding soil. Gophers plug the entrances to their burrows for the same reasons that we close our doors and windows- to keep out intruders and to control the environment (light, airflow, temperature, and humidity.) Gophers basically tunnel to the surface for two reasons: to feed or to push out excess dirt. That is why you will see small "puffs" of dirt in some places (feeding holes) and large horseshoe or volcano shaped mounds in other places. See the picuture below for examples of both.
Gophers rarely leave their burrows. They are anti-social and territorial with only one gopher living in each tunnel system. Once a female has raised a litter, the young are forced out to seek their own territory. In an area that has a high number of gophers it is fairly common for a new gopher to take over an undefended burrow system.
Ther term gopher is often used in other parts of the country to mean other digging critters such as prairie dogs. But in Southern California,we have true gophers, also called pocket gophers because they have pouches extending down from each side of their face in which they stuff food. There are over 100 species of pocket gopher in North America. San Diego County has the Botta's pocket gopher.
Gophers are sometimes confused with moles but with a little information, it is easy to tell the difference. See Moles below.
Typical gopher mounds - one for excavating and one for feeding.
Extensive gopher damage.
Another type of gopher hole.
Moles are not nearly as big a problem for most parts of San Diego County as gophers are. Our moles are fairly small compared to mole species found in other parts of the country. They are brown or black and may not be much bigger than your thumb.
Mole are not rodents and are not related to gophers. Moles are insectivores. They consume large quantities of earthworms and other insects. Like gophers they spend their lives underground but, unlike gophers, they do not eat plants. Moles dig a deep tunnel system for sleeping and security. Small volcano shaped mounds of soil may be pushed to the surface as a result. Mole dirt is clumpy compared to gopher dirt.
Moles do not break the surface to feed. Rather, they build shallow tunnels that run just under the surface of the soil. These appear as snake-like ridges in the lawn or garden with a characteristic crack running the along the top. It is common for these ridges to run along the edge of a driveway or some other hardscape feature. These feeding tunnels create gaps in the root zone of small beddng plants and turf, depriving the plants of moisture. Insects fall down from the "roof" of the tunnel and get scooped up by the mole.
There are many bait products on the market that claim to control both gophers and moles. I find this amusing because these products are usually grain based and moles don't eat grain.
There is a great new product available to pest control professionals that really works on moles. We have been using it for a while now with excellent results.
A mole burrow.
Rats and mice are a year-round problem in our San Diego landscape. If allowed to breed unchecked in the landscape, they often seek food and shelter inside buildings.
The best approach is to keep rodent populations low outside. Pet food, bird seed, vegetable gardens, fruit and nut trees, and snails are all favorite foods of rats and mice. Always store pet food and bird seed in rodent proof containers and avoid leaving pet food out at night. If you suspect you have a rat or mouse problem, we strongly recommend that you deal with it quickly. The damage they do can be alot more expensive than the cost to exterminate them. Quick action can also help you avoid serious odors and health threats associated with rats and mice.
In most situations we can exterminate rats and mice even around pets. We will work with you so that we understand your pet"s habits and tendencies in order to keep them safe while getting rid of the rodents.
Voles are a species of mouse commonly called meadow mice or field mice as (opposed to house mice.) They are slightly larger than house mice and usually live outside although they can get into attics and garages as well. They often take over abandoned gopher tunnels. If you have little open holes in your landscapping or lawn, it is probably a vole problem. Voles live in large family groups and tend to reinfest problem areas very quickly if not dealt with agressively. See the picture below for a typical vole colony in turf grass. Notice that the holes are always left open while gophers never leave their burrows open in this way for very long.
Vole trails and burrows.
Ground squirrels are cute--until they are stripping the flower beds and excavating large burrows on your property. They undermine banks and slopes and, when numerous enough, will move right into flat turf areas.
Squirrel populations can soar dramatically when the young emerge from the burrow in spring. Litters containing as many as 14 offspring are common.
Ground squirrels are most apt to move into new territory after a good rain because it is easy to dig a new burrow and also in late spring when the population soars due to the breeding cycle.
There are numerous species of ants in San Diego County, but two of them are considered major pests. Argentine ants are the small, dark colored ants that infest our homes and gardens in Southern California. They swarm into our homes in search of food, water, and shade. They can also damage plants by nesting in the roots or by actually nurturing aphid infestations on your plants in order to collect the honey dew that aphids secrete. See the FAQ page for ant control information.
The other ant pest that is fairly common is what most of us around San Diego County refer to as "red ants". These are the big ones that sting! They are actually harvester ants. Harvester ants have simple holes in the ground that lead into the underground nest. There is usually a large circle around the nest site that the ants keep clear of debris and folliage with no mounding of the soil.
We can rid your property of red ant colonies by treating around the entrance with either a bait or a spray formulation.
The European brown snail is not native to North America. It was brought here because it was thought to be suitable for escargot. When it was realized that this was the wrong species for human consumption, the snails were dumped into a river. Needless to say, not all of them drowned!
Besides being a terrible garden pest, snails are also a favorite food of rats and skunks. An abundance of snails can attract these animals. Snails are also a nuisance due to the slime trails they leave behind as well as their "droppings" -which look like a little piles of curly, grey-white string. These scats are often found soiling the exterior of homes, fences, and other places wheres snails hang out.
Snail eating a lemon.
We all know that the Africanized honey bee is more aggressive than the european honey bee. But did you know that the Africanized bee is also much more prolific? When honey bees outgrow their space, a new queen is produced and she flies off taking half or more of the hive workers with her to a new nest. The european honey bee usually does this once per year in the spring. The Africanized honey bee produces so many offspring that they split the hive up to 10 times per year! This means a lot more beehives out there. Our bees usually take advantage of an existing hollow space with a small entry hole where they can start constructing the wax sheets of honey comb. Sometimes they will pick a sheltered area like the eaves under the roof. They will also nest in objects that are low to the ground like an overturned bucket or an irrigation valve box. Once a hive has been removed, new bees will be attracted to the smell of honey if it is not thouroughly cleaned up. Bees sting as a defensive tactic if they perceive you as a threat. Once the first bee stings you, if you are in the vicinity of the hive, you are in trouble. Chemicals released into the air by the first bee sting will cause the entire hive to go on the attack. These bees will find you by following the CO2 that you exhale, so naturally they will wind up aiming for your face and eyes. Most people can easily out run honey bees but not if their eyes are swollen shut. So be careful when you are out of doors. Stay alert. Be watching and listening for hive activity so you can steer clear.
A swarm of bees in a tree.
Another bee swarm.
Sorry, we don't perform rabbit control but this one comes up so often we'll try to pass on some information and advice. You can fence them out of your yard or selected parts of your yard with 2ft high mesh or wire. Make sure it is small enough that baby bunnies can't squeeze through. Cotton tails aren't high jumpers or deep hole diggers but you must make sure they cannot squeeze under or through gaps in the fence. We are of the opinion that repellents are fairly useless, however if you have a localized problem you can try peppering the damaged area heavily with either red or black pepper. Put the pepper down fairly heavy and keep it up for a while. You won't get them to stay out of your yard, but you may be able to shift them from the area where there are doing the most damage. For a few strays stuck inside your yard, live trapping may be an option that you can try for yourself.