Spring Focus: Prairie Dogs

Prairie Dog Pups

Black tailed prairie dog pups venturing out on a bright sunny day. They are all watching mom. There is a 6th but he would only peek out occasionally. Photo © Larry Smith

Animals on the Refuge are great fun to watch. This month, we are going to focus on Prairie Dogs.

They have many ways of behaving that remind us of ourselves as they busily dart from place to place, playing, working to build mounds, grooming one another, sending signals, and even seeming to kiss and snuggle.

A prairie dog is not a dog at all, but a rodent. A rodent is a mammal with teeth that keep growing longer as it lives. Other members of the rodent family include squirrels, chipmunks and mice. The most common prairie dog, the black-tailed, is found on the prairies. Another type, the white-tailed, lives higher up in mountainous areas. Early settlers called them “dogs” because of the high-pitched calls that sound like a dog barking. Experts say different barks and body movements send different signals. For example, one bark might warn of a hawk, while a different one might warn of a snake.

Prairie dogs eat mostly grasses. They sometimes add sagebrush and other prairie plants and insects to their diet. Prairie dogs do not drink water! They get all the water they need from the plants they eat. That is why feeding them potato chips and Cheetos isn’t good for them. It makes them thirsty!

Prairie dogs live in big underground colonies or towns. Each family group has its own area, with separate rooms for the bathroom, food storage, sleeping and nurseries. They build mounds outside their tunnel entrances to serve as lookout towers where guards can stand to watch for danger. The mounds also keep water from flooding into the tunnels below.

Historic Site Highlights – The Plains Indian Commissary – Bison Store

Excerpt: With the acquisition of the horse, the nomadic peoples of the Plains developed a two-fold culture based on the horse and the buffalo. The buffalo provided most of the peoples’ needs for food, clothing, shelter, and implements. The animal held a sacred place in their lives and the con ducted ceremonies to in sure a successful hunt. Download document – 2 pages, PDF format