Introduction - Prairie DogsOn this page of Desert Animal Facts you will find interesting information listed about Prairie Dogs including their description, where they live, and how they communicate. There are five species of Prairie Dogs all of which live in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. They live in a wide variety of dry regions including deserts such as the Great Basin, Mojave, and Chihuahuan deserts. In the United States they are found in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, and a few other states mainly west of the Mississippi River. The below information is written for both kids and adults.
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Prairie Dog SpeciesThere are five species of Prairie Dogs, they are:
- White-Tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys leucurus)
- Utah Prairie Dog (Cynomys parvidens)
- Gunnison Prairie Dog (Cynomys gunnisoni)
- Mexican Prairie Dog (Cynomys mexicanus)
- Black-Tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus)
Basic Prairie Dogs Facts
- Prairie Dogs (genus Cynomys) are not in any way related to dogs; they are actually rodents and members of the squirrel family. Early explorers and settlers of the Americas thought the animals alert calls sounded like dogs barking and therefore called them Prairie Dogs. Notes from the Lewis and Clark Expedition dating to 1804 describe finding the burrows of an animal the French refereed to as Prairie Dogs.
- These mammals are herbivorous, eating mostly grass and seeds; however they have been known to also eat insects.
- These rodents are approximately 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 centimeters) long from their head to the tip of their tail.
- Prairie Dogs typically weigh between one and three pounds (.5 to 1.5 kilograms).
- The most common species of Prairie Dogs is the Black-Tailed. Its natural habitat extends from Canada down through the plains of the western United States all the way to Mexico. It is also the largest of the five species.
- The population of all five of the species has experienced an incredible decline over the last several decades. Urban development into their habitats and farmers killing them off to protect their crops are the main reasons for their decline.
- Animals that prey upon the Prairie Dog include the coyote, eagle, fox, black-footed ferret, and various snakes.
- Prairie dogs have a very advanced form of communication. They will make different warning sounds based on the type of predator or perceived threat that is approaching.
- Prairie Dogs are very social animals. There family unit (called coteries or clans) consist of a male, one or more females, and their babies. Several coteries make up a ward and several wards make up a colony (or town). The families in a colony will work together by warning each other of approaching predators or other perceived dangers. Family members will kiss and groom each other; they will not do this with Prairie Dogs outside of their family.
Prairie Dog Burrow Facts
- Burrows provide protection from predators and from environmental dangers such as hailstorms and fires.
- These animals are well known for making complex under-ground tunnel systems that can be 16 to 33 feet (4.88 - 10.06 meters) long.
- Prairie Dog burrows have numerous rooms (chambers). For example there are rooms for sleeping, nursery chambers, and chambers for cold weather.
- Their burrows have several entrances (sometimes as many as six entrances). The entrances are often raised slightly above the ground as to avoid rainwater from entering the burrow and to provide a vantage point where they can spot predators before moving away from the entrance.
- Burrows help prairie dogs control their body temperature by keeping them warm when it is cold outside and keeping them cooler when it is hot outside.