Found in prairies of central North America, from southern Canada to northernmost Mexico; range stretches west to foothills of Rockies.
The prairies of central North America are a huge homeland for the black-tailed prairie dog. But it is abundant only in the ‘rancher’ country of South Dakota, Arizona and New Mexico. A sparse growth of low-growing grasses and herbs dominates the prairies, with a scattering of scrub and trees.
Head/Body 11"-13", 2.5-3 lbs.
grasses, forbs; sometimes invertebrates, especially grasshoppers and beetles.
herbivore pellets, and greens (lettuce and kale)
Life spans (wild):
Life spans (captivity):
shooting and poisoning reduced its population by over 90%.
They are fat rodents, closely related to squirrels. Their coat is a yellowish color with buff or cream bellies and their ears are darker and very short. There are whitish rings on their faces as well. They have short bushy tails. Their eyes are positioned on the sides of their heads so their vision has a wider arc for detecting predators.
They have a highly organized social life and lives in colonies, called “towns” that can sometimes have several thousand animals. The towns are divided up into smaller family units with their own territory consisting of one adult male, several closely related females, and their offspring. Families have both rivalries and loyalties in the towns.
Large mounds are formed at the entrances to the burrows. These mounds have 2 functions; they protect the burrows from being flooded during rains so the prairie dogs do not drown. They also act as look out points for predators. A “sentinel” or a look out prairie dog will watch for predators and when one is sited it will give a barking sound to alert the other members of the town. This sound is where they got their name.
They have chirps and chatters much like those of a tree squirrel; snarls and are used when fighting; squeals of fright; and a shrill bark that gives this animal its common and genus names. They also have mouth-to-mouth contact, or ‘kissing’ that strengthens family bonds.
grasses, forbs; sometimes invertebrates, especially grasshoppers and beetles
foxes, the American Badger, Coyotes, Bobcats, eagles, hawks, and snakes
quadrupedal and bipedal
Any interesting story/fact:
They helped protect the Great Plains area by not letting tall grasses take over because of the prairie dog burrows. The burrows also helped by stirring up the earth and providing underground passages for moisture.
They are a keystone species, meaning they are very important to their ecosystem. They keep the grasslands from changing to pasture lands, they provide homes for other animals, like burrowing owls with their abandoned burrows, and they are an important food source for many animals, like the black-footed ferret.