ABOUT THE PRAIRIE DOG
Prairie dogs are herbivorous burrowing rodents native to the grasslands of North America. The five species are: black-tailed, white-tailed, Gunnison's, Utah, and Mexican prairie dogs. They are a type of ground squirrel, found in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Prairie dogs play a vital role in maintaining the prairie ecosystem. Their churning activities aerate the soil allowing more water penetration, and their nitrogen-rich dung is a natural fertiliser which improves soil quality and vegetation.
- Type: Mammal (rodent)
- Diet: Herbivore
- Lifespan: 3-4 years
- Size: Average around 30-40 cm long
- Weight: 0.5-1.5 kg
- Habitat: Prairies and plateaus
- Range: North America
- Scientific name: Cynomys
Facts About the Prairie Dog
- Prairie dogs live in underground burrows which have a complex tunnel and warren system. They have specific areas for nurseries, sleeping, toilets and even listening posts near exits. The tunnels are arranged so as to allow air to flow through them providing ventilation.
- Prairie dogs are highly social, living in large groups called “towns”. They co-operate to share food, protect their burrow and often groom each other. When group members meet each other they give them a prairie dog kiss, or nuzzle.
- Prairie dogs act together to ensure each others’ safety. While the group forages and maintains the burrows, one or more individuals act as a sentinel keeping watch for danger. The sentinel will give a loud alarm bark if a predator approaches and the group will head for the safety of the burrow.
- Prairie dogs are intelligent animals with complex communication. They have a range of different barks and chirps for communicating different messages. They have specific calls for specific predators, and even have a specific alarm call for humans with a gun.
- Ecologists consider prairie dogs to be a keystone species of immense ecological importance. Snakes, burrowing owls and some other species use their deserted burrows for nesting areas. They are also an important food source for many predator species including the rare black-footed ferret.
- Prairie dogs are diurnal, meaning that they are most active at dawn and dusk.
- Female prairie dogs go to the nursery burrow when they are ready to give birth. Young pups are born hairless with their eyes closed, and are totally dependant on their mother’s care and love. They do not leave the burrow until they are about 6 weeks old, and only consider leaving the group after they are a year old.
- The name Prairie dog was given due to their habitat (prairies/grasslands) and their warning calls which sound like barks. The genus name Cynonyms derives from the Greek for “mouse dog”.
- Prairie dogs play a vital role in maintaining the prairie ecosystem. Their churning activities aerate the soil allowing more water penetration, and their nitrogen-rich dung is a natural fertiliser which improves soil quality and vegetation.
Clancy's comment: Learning about their tunnels, makes me wonder if the Viet Cong learnt from these little guys.