Black-tailed Prairie Dogs are small mammals of approximately 1,5kg of weight. They usually live in burrows, which they excavate in the wide grasslands of North America, from Canada to Mexico. They are called “prairie dogs” due to the particular sounds the produce, which are similar to dog barking.
There are five different types of prairie dogs, of which two are considered to be endangered species. The most common in the wild is the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys Ludovicianus), which can be seen at Rancho Texas Lanzarote Park.
Prairie dogs are gregarious animals. They live in wide, tunnel-like burrows which can be several meters deep. Their natural habitat are the Great Plains of North America. The burrow systems of the prairie dogs are often called “towns”, as they are inhabited by huge colonies of thousands or even millions of these small mammals.
These colonies are organized according to a strict hierarchy: several families share the same burrow; these are usually formed by one male, several females and their offspring. Each one of these families has its own tunnel and the coexistence between the families is harmonious.
During the day, the family groups can be observed, sitting at the entrance of the burrows. The family members sit on their hind legs, socializing and cleaning each other. Interaction between prairie dogs are frequent. They will greet each other by touching noses or turning their heads sideways and touching incisors. They also groom each other and work together to build their burrows. Mouth contacts are often referred to as the “kiss of the prairie dog”, consisting in two specimens supposedly “kissing” each other with the mouth open either in order to threaten or to recognize each other.
Black-tailed prairie dogs are frequently exterminated from ranchland, being labelled as a pest, as their burrows cause harm to the cattle and they rival on some common food sources, which can be grass, branches, roots and leaves. The massive feeding activity of thousands of prairie dogs does not allow the high grasses to regenerate, for which they are substituted by lower herbs, which grow a lot faster.
Black-tailed Prairie Dog, Cynomys ludovicianus
How are they? Prairie dogs are rodents of the squirrel and marmot family. Their body weight ranges between 1-1,5kg. They use their four paws for locomotion. However, their front legs are shorter that the hind legs, which are strong enough to support the body weight in erect position. Prairie dogs sit up when they are on guard, when they feed or interact with each other. It has yellowish to reddish brown fur on its back and sides and lighter coloured fur under its neck and on its chest. They have a short, black-tipped tail.
Where do they live? In semi-dry grasslands with xerophilous shrubbery.
How is the species geographically distributed? We can find them in Canada, the United States of America and Mexico.
What do they feed on? The seeds, stems, roots and leaves, grasses and weeds make up most of the prairie dog’s diet. In summer, it will sometimes eat grasshoppers, beetles and other insects.