- Genus: Cynomys
- Conservation Status: Lower risk- near threatened
- Location: The grasslands of central and western North America.
The Squirrel that Barks
Prairie dogs are the most social members of the Squirrel Family and are closely related to ground squirrels, chipmunks and marmots. There are five different species of prairie dogs and they are found in colonies in the prairies and open grasslands of North America. They live in underground burrows that have nurseries, sleeping quarters and even toilets! A prairie dog colony is called a town and some towns are quite enormous.
Prairie dogs are as big as large squirrels. They are robust, slightly grizzled and stout. They have broad, rounded heads, hairy tails and short legs .They emerge from their burrows during the day to feed on all kinds of grasses, roots, weeds, and blossoms. They acquire all of their water from the food they eat. Sometimes they will also eat insects! During winter, prairie dogs stay in their burrows and survive on the fat in their bodies which they store up when food was plentiful.
Prairie dogs are considered a “keystone” species as they are a food source for many animals and even help to make the soil more fertile so that a greater variety of plants can thrive. Humans pose the greatest threat to prairie dogs, through farmland and urban development. Since prairie dogs play an important role in maintaining the balance of Nature, we must put an end to the destruction of prairie dog colonies on public lands.
Did You Know?
- Prairie dogs are called dogs because of their bark-like call.
- Prairie dogs have different calls to warn their friends of the approach of different enemies like hawks, owls, eagles, snakes and coyotes.
- In 1900, a huge prairie dog settlement was reported on the high plains of Texas. It extended 100 miles in one direction and 250 miles in the other. An estimated 400 million prairie dogs lived in this "town!"
- Prairie dogs can run very fast- at around 35 miles per hour- for short distances.