Black-Tailed Prairie Dog
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Prairie dogs carry out intricate social lives on (and under) open plains and plateaus. For shelter and prevention from predators, they construct complex burrow systems known as towns. A dog town frequently covers 250 acres or more and its underground nest chambers and tunnels can run as long as 112 feet and as deep as 16 feet. Around the entrances, prairie dogs build volcano-shaped mounds of dirt to prevent water from running down into the burrow.
Natural boundaries subdivide towns into wards, which are further separated into territorial social units called coteries. Coteries contain about 9 animals, typically one adult male, several related adult females, and their young. Females remain in the coterie where they were born, but males attempt to join and achieve dominance in other coteries. To prevent inbreeding, dominant males usually leave their coterie before their female pups reach adulthood.
Prairie dogs hibernate during winter and come back out of their dens in early spring.
Prairie dogs are herbivores. They eat grasses and herbs, but do not store food in their burrows as one might think.
Females produce one litter of 2 to10 pups each year in the early spring. All females in a coterie give birth at the same time, but about 40 percent of all litters lose pups to infanticide by other mothers. The pups begin making trips outside the burrow at 6 weeks and reach adulthood by 2 years old. Prairie dogs can live up to 5 years.
Some of My Neighbors
Bison, black-footed ferrets, ground squirrels
Population Status & Threats
The black-tailed prairie dog is listed as near threatened. This means that if populations continue to decline, this animal could face a risk of extinction in the wild. In the late nineteenth century, the black-tailed prairie dog population increased dramatically as settlers moved west and eliminated predators. But as farmers and ranchers came to perceive prairie dogs as agricultural pests, they began poisoning them. The biggest threat to prairie dogs today is habitat loss from livestock grazing and agriculture.
To protect a wide range of iconic American species, WCS created a new American Bison Society (ABS) in 2006. Conservationists are working to restore the ecological role of the American bison, which, in turn, would increase black-tailed prairie dogs and other populations of American wildlife. Prairie dogs rely on bison to trim prairie grass patches down to the right height for a colony to make its home. Ultimately, the ABS hopes to see large herds of bison moving freely across extensive landscapes within their historic ranges, interacting with a full set of other native wildlife. This vision has received the support of other conservation groups, Native Americans, agencies, and private ranchers.
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