Prairie Dog | Burrowing Rodent of North America

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What do Prairie Dog look like?

Prairie dogs are small furry animals. They are just over a foot tall and have tails that are 3 to 4 inches long. They usually weigh 2 to 4 pounds. They have brown fur, black eyes and short clawed limbs.

Highlights of Prairie Dog:

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Rodentia
Family Sciuridae
Genus Cynomys

Different Types of Prairie Dogs

There are five different types of prairie dogs such as black-tailed (udovicianus), white-tailed (leucurus), Mexican (mexicanus), Gunnison’s (gunnisoni), and the Utah (parvidens).

Are Prairie Dog really dogs?

The prairie dog is not really a dog, but a type of rodent or ground squirrel. They got their name “dog” because of the barking sound they make.

Where do Prairie Dog live?

They mainly live in the central part of the United States in the Great Plains. They live in areas with temperatures ranging from very cold to extremely hot.

Prairie dogs are perhaps best known for their burrowing abilities. They build large caves in the ground with many entrances. Their burrows are typically 6 to 10 feet deep and are made up of long tunnels and chambers. Some of the chambers have specific uses such as a nursery for young prairie dogs, a sleeping room, a winter room, and a place to listen for predators.

Prairie Dog Towns

Prairie dogs live in a complex social society. The smallest group is a family group called a “coterie” or “clan”. Family groups usually include one male, several females, and their offspring. Each group is usually about an acre in size and will have a cave with 60 to 70 entrances.

Several family groups can form a prairie dog town. Some prairie dog towns have tens of thousands of prairie dogs and cover miles of land. Large cities may have divisions between towns and parties known as neighborhoods. A county is made up of several groups.

What do Prairie Dog eat?

Prairie dogs are omnivores, which means they eat plants. They eat roots, seeds, grass and leaves.

Defending Their Homes

Prairie dogs have a number of ways to protect their home from predators. First, they clear most of the landscape of tall trees and make space to see approaching predators. We also created large mounds at some of our cave entrances so we can search for predators from a higher vantage point. They then post sentinels to keep an eye on predators. If they see danger, they will issue a quick warning and any nearby prairie dogs will run to the safety of their burrow.

Typical predators include hawks, wolves, badgers, snakes, and eagles.

Are Prairie Dog endangered?

It is estimated that just over 100 years ago, about 5 billion prairie dogs lived in the Great Plains. That’s a lot of prairie dogs! However, their population has plummeted and about 98% of the prairie dog population has disappeared. This decline is mainly due to the fact that farmers and ranchers view this species as a pest that destroys their crops and fodder. Therefore, breeders have been actively eliminating prairie dogs for decades.

The Utah and Mexican prairie dogs are officially listed as endangered. However, the sharp decline in the number of species is of concern to many scientists.

An Important Species

Today, many scientists say that prairie dogs are an important part of grassland ecosystems and biomes. They are considered a “primary rock species”. Prairie dogs provide food for some predators, aerate the soil with their burrows, and fertilize the soil.

Interesting Facts about the Prairie Dog

Some scientists believe that prairie dogs’ warning barks are different for different predators. This is because they will react differently to barking if the predator is a hawk vs. whether it is a human or a wolf.

There is a prairie dog city in Texas that is said to have over 400 million prairie dogs.

Many other animals use prairie dogs’ burrows to live. These include badgers, rabbits, snakes, and weasels.

The typical lifespan of a prairie dog is three to four years.

They mainly stay in burrows in the winter, living off fat stored in the summer. White-tailed prairie dogs usually hibernate for up to 6 months of the year.