Fauna: Geomys fontanelus 

Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center

Geomys fontanelus
Southeastern pocket gopher

You might never have seen a pocket gopher as they live almost entirely underground. They are fossorial creatures, meaning they are excellent diggers and prefer to burrow. They flourish in the type of soil found under the longleaf pine, which makes them very happy in the Ogeechee River basin. With giant front teeth and long claws, they look threatening, but are mostly harmless rodents.

They can be annoying for farmers as they dig up mounds of dirt in their fields, but they are ecologically significant in the aeration and mixing of the soil. They are particularly helpful in restoring forests after a prescribed burn by eating subterranean roots and preparing the land for a new planting of pine trees.

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You are also unlikely to see a pocket gopher due to their threatened status and declining number. They were listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1989 and were even thought to be extinct for a number of years. Scientists are now finding small, locally-abundant populations but they are overall quite scarce.

A very annoyed gopher. Photo by Jim Ozier, GA DNR Wildlife Resources

There are a handful of subspecies in the Ogeechee River basin. G. p. cumberlandius is found only on Cumberland Island in Georgia. G. p. fontanelus is an isolated population near Savannah, and G. p. colonus is restricted to coastal plains in Camden Co., Georgia.