Facts about prairie dogs

  • Prairie dogs

    Neal and Mary Jane Mishler
  • Prairie dog

    Predator Project photo
  • Prairie dog

    Neal and Mary Jane Mishler
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Prairie dogs come in five types: Utah, Gunnison, Mexican, white-tailed and black-tailed. The Utah prairie dog is listed as a threatened species and the Mexican is listed as endangered.

Prairie dogs are active during the day, but only if the sun is out. Socially, they organize themselves into coteries, with one male protecting a one-acre plot for four to five females, each with its own five-pup (on average) litter.

Prairie dogs become combative in the spring, when new litters are born and male yearlings from the previous year's litters attempt to take over. Those who lose - whether young or old - hit the road, following any beaten trail available until they come to a heavily grazed area where they attempt to create a new town.

Burrows with high dome-shaped mounds are entrance holes which dogs start digging from the surface. They tightly pack the dirt of the mounds by butting it with their heads after a rain. Exit holes are excavated from underneath and thus have very low mounds. Exit holes are also steeper and, consequently, the preferred route to escape predators. Once a predator departs, prairie dogs will jump in the air, arch their backs and bark out - -Weeee-Ohhh' - meaning "Everything's A-OK."

Some prairie dogs will walk down a road that leads to a boat ramp on a river or lake and start to swim. Since they aren't great swimmers, they usually drown.

Prairie dog towns have been called the supermarkets of the Great Plains. Up to 165 species of animals and insects either live in the burrows, eat the prairie dogs, graze on the highly nutritious weedy plants that grow there, or find insects more readily in the short vegetation.

The black-tailed prairie dog once held a symbiotic relationship with the bison. Bison would congregate in dog towns to graze. As a colony's prairie dog population increased, the strong dogs would drive off the weak. The exiled dogs would disperse to new areas, following the bison trails. The elimination of bison from the range also led to a large decrease in prairie dog populations across the West. The rodent rebounded when cattle took over the bison's role.

Studies in Oklahoma show that cows grazing prairie dog towns put on the same weight as cows grazing in high grass outside the towns, despite the fact that they take in less volume.

The prairie dog will outlast a camel in the desert. It can live off its body fat without eating or drinking for up to 60 days, while retaining normal body temperature and remaining active at any time of the year. Consequently, not all prairie dogs hibernate during the winter.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PUBLIC LANDS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a candidate with excellent communication skills and a commitment to environmental conservation for the position of Public Lands Program Manager....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia, CO, seeks a dynamic leader who is mission-driven, hardworking, and a creative problem-solver. WSCC is committed to creating...
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • MATADOR RANCH STEWARD
    The Matador Ranch Steward conducts annual stewardship projects at the Matador Ranch Preserve and occasionally supports stewardship projects elsewhere in Montana's Northern Great Plains. The...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.