Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludoricianus)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family:    Sciuridae
Size:    Length: 12 to 17 inches (30 to 43 cm)
Weight: 2 to 3 pounds (0.9 to 1.3 kg)
Diet: Leaves, stems, buffalo grass, weeds and sometimes insects
Distribution: North American prairies
Young:  2 to 8 pups, once a year
Animal Predators:  Hawks, eagles, owls, ravens, badgers, ferrets, snakes, coyotes and weasels
IUCN Status: Lower Risk, Near Threatened
Terms: Young: Pup  Group: Coterie, town
Lifespan: Average 5 to 8 years in the wild



·       Prairie dogs are the most social members of the squirrel family.

·       Early settlers called them “sod poodles” because of their high-pitched, bark-like call.

·       In 1900, over five billion prairie dogs occupied millions of acres of grass prairies across the West.

·       Black-tailed prairie dog family members and friends greet each other with a kiss as a form of recognition.



Black-tailed prairie dogs have fur ranging from light reddish-brown to yellowish-brown above, with an off-white belly. They have small ears and large, dark eyes. Their claws and whiskers are black and the tip of their tail is also black. 



Prairie dogs once roamed in abundance throughout North Mexico, Saskatchewan, Montana, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and Wyoming. They are found on arid grass prairies from Canada to Mexico. Prairie dog neighbourhoods (also known as coteries) usually consist of numerous females and only one or two males, who defend their territory vigorously from intruding males, but are accepting of strange females who enter the area. 


Feeding Habits

Their diet consists of leaves, stems, buffalo grass, weeds and sometimes insects. They rarely drink because they obtain an adequate amount of moisture from the vegetation they ingest. 



Mating takes place in late January, with a litter of two to eight (usually four) following in March or April. The tiny newborns are born without fur and are completely helpless. They stay in the burrow until they are six weeks of age and until then are defended vigorously by their mothers. Males are active fathers, defending the burrows where their pups and mates live, as well as playing with, kissing and sleeping with the pups. Once the pups can go above ground, females protect and even nurse pups from other litters as well. Pups have been observed following a female other than their mother into a burrow at night, perhaps because they become so highly socialized within the coterie that they feel comfortable with any members. They are weaned at seven weeks and will only stay in their mother’s burrow for another two more weeks. 



Black-tailed prairie dogs are extremely social and gregarious. They live in large communities containing hundreds of prairie dogs within an area covering up to 1,000 acres, and they depend on each other for protection. They take turns acting as a sentry, to watch out for predators. When the sentry spots danger, it gives out an alarm call that not only lets the other prairie dogs know of the intruder, but actually identifies which predator is approaching, according to the specific sound of the call. In fact, their brains are so sophisticated that if they see a man with a gun, and he reappears even months later with no gun, the prairie dog on sentry that day will remember that he once had a gun and give the alarm cry for “man with a gun.” Having a sentry on duty is very important, because other than disappearing into their burrows, prairie dogs have little protection against predators. Once the danger has passed, one of the prairie dogs will give an “all clear” call and they emerge from their burrows again. Besides looking out for each other, prairie dogs play together, groom each other and nuzzle. Burrows and food are shared within each prairie dog community. Prairie dogs do not hibernate, but will stay underground for several days during cold snaps.



Black-tailed prairie dogs are listed as Special Concern by COSEWIC—Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Because of massive poisoning by farmers and ranchers, prairie dog numbers have dropped drastically. Large prairie dog populations can damage crops, eat grass meant for livestock and dig holes which are dangerous to horses and cows, but eliminating them has caused serious problems. In Texas, for example, ranchers have noted the spread of an undesirable type of brush in areas where prairie dogs have been extirpated, creating detrimental effects on the livestock industry far outweighing any drawbacks created by their presence. Protected colonies are located in South Dakota, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Texas.



Black-tailed Prairie Dog Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US