Characteristics: Prairie dogs are rodents native to the grasslands of North America. The five different species of prairie dogs are: black-tailed, white-tailed, Gunnison’s, Utah, and Mexican prairie dogs. Black-tailed prairie dogs are generally tan in color, with lighter-colored bellies. Their tails have black tips, from which their name is derived. Adults can weigh from 1.5 to 3 lb, males are typically heavier than females. Body length is normally from 14 to 17 inches, with a 3 to 4 inches tail.
Lifespan: Wild, 3-5 years; Captivity, up to 8 years.
Habitat: North American short grass prairie, mixed-grass prairie, sagebrush steppe and desert grassland.
Range: Presently in 11 States including: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.
Diet: Grasses, sedges, forbs (flowering plants), roots and seeds. They are also known to eat insects.
Behavior: Prairie dogs are very social and live in closely-knit family groups called “coteries.” Coteries usually contain an adult male, one or more adult females and their young offspring. These coteries are grouped together into wards (or neighborhoods) and several wards make up a colony or town.
Prairie dogs live in underground burrows, made up of a system of tunnels and chambers marked by many mounds of packed earth at the entrances. These burrows have nurseries, sleeping quarters, and even toilets. They create listening posts near exits, so animals can safely observe the movements of predators. Prairie dogs spend a lot of time building and rebuilding these dwellings.
Keeper notes: Our town has approximately 25 prairie dogs. In Winter, 4 to 5 prairie dogs may emerge to sun themselves or to get a bite to eat. Mating season begins in March. Prairie dogs are highly territorial and will fight to reestablish their territories each Spring. Usually 4-8 babies emerge in early May. In Summer, at least 12-15 prairie dogs can be seen throughout the day. Their diet consists of whole shelled corn and alpha pellets. Their favorite enrichment items include peanut butter sticks covered with corn, dried meal worms, and pea pods.