Curious facts from the animal world: Gophers harvest and fertilize parts of their food themselves, according to a new study.

Certain gophers in the US operate underground root farms, according to a new study. Scientists from the University of Florida reported in the journal “Current Biology” that the investigated southeastern gopher (Geomys pinetis) carefully harvests and fertilizes parts of its food itself.

The American rat species lives in extensive underground tunnel systems and feeds mainly on roots that grow into their burrows. Measurements taken in a field with burrows built by the little creatures indicate that they don’t just harvest the long-leaved pine roots that grow into their homes – they cultivate them, as the science portal “Sciencealert” interprets the study results.

Gophers know exactly what they’re doing

The gopher’s winding tunnels, hundreds of feet long, are constantly being modified and revised. In their study, the researchers point out that gopher gophers know exactly what they are doing when it comes to root management.

The animals not only harvest these, but cultivate the underground root fields with their droppings as fertilizer. In this way, the gopher can continue to provide itself with food while the tunnel is being built, covering between 20 and 60 percent of its daily energy needs. The results also show that the animals spend a lot of time and energy defending their crops. In other words, the purposeful tending of the burrows and the management of the growing conditions of the roots make their behavior a form of agriculture previously seen only in humans in the mammalian world.

The scientists hope that their study will create a larger platform for the understudied animals, said researcher Veronica Selden. “Purse rats are much more interesting than you give them credit for,” says the zoologist. “They are really important ecosystem engineers.”

Sources: Current Biology, Sciencealert, DPA