STATUS IN THE WILD: Least Concern
RANGE: North America
PHYSICAL FEATURES AND CHARACTERISTICS
Prairie dogs are large, stout, ground-dwelling squirrels. This species is typically tan or brown on top with a paler coloration on the underside and is named for the distinct black tip on its short thin tail. Their head is small and round with large, black eyes and tiny, round ears.
LIFESTYLE AND REPRODUCTION
Black-tailed prairie dogs are active throughout the year during the day. This species does not hibernate but, instead, may spend extended periods of time underground during extremely cold or wintery weather. Cool daylight hours are spent grooming each other, foraging, and engaging in other social activities, and midday hours are spent napping below ground. While prairie dogs are out foraging, a sentry perches on the edge and watches for predators. If a predator is spotted, the sentry will bark out a warning causing the others to dive quickly to the safety of their burrows. Prairie dogs are known for their high degree of social organization. They live in enormous colonies, known as towns, containing hundreds to millions of individuals. They share an elaborate network of burrows that can cover areas of around two hundred fifty acres. Each town is subdivided into ‘wards’ and then into smaller family groups called ‘coteries’ containing related females, one or two males, and offspring under two years of age. They greet each other by touching noses or teeth and can communicate using a variety of vocal calls that sound like yips and barks. Coteries share food and cooperate to defend territory from neighbors. Males are only threatened by invading males, while females are ruthless to other invading females. Females can live up to eight years of age, while males tend to not live longer than five years.
During breeding season, females will aggressively defend their burrows and have been known to raid and kill pups in other burrows. The mating structure is polygynous, meaning a dominate male will breed with multiple females within his coterie. Mating occurs once per year in the spring, and a litter of one to eight pups is born after gestating for about a month. Offspring are born blind, hairless, and helpless, causing them to stay in the burrows until six weeks of age. Female offspring will stay within the coterie they are born into, while the males will disperse before spring of the next year. Adult males rarely stay within a coterie for more two breeding seasons.
Black-tailed prairie dogs are found in the central United States.
They live in burrows dug in dry, short-grassed prairies.
Prairie dogs are opportunistic, but 98 percent of their diet is grasses, seeds, roots, and leaves. They will occasionally eat grasshoppers, beetles, and other invertebrates.