Black-tailed Prairie Dog Animals & Plants

About the Black-tailed Prairie Dog

Tanned and light brown in appearance, the Black-tailed Prairie Dog is a rodent that can stretch out to over 50cm long once you include its black-tipped tail. Weighing up to 1.5kg, the male is usually heavier than the female while the ‘dog’ label comes from its ability to bark loudly in order to alert others to possible danger.

Habitat

Found across North American grasslands from Canada to Mexico, the animal is well adapted for burrowing with muscular forelegs, compact bodies and a thick fur coat allowing it to dig and move through tunnels with ease. Long toes and claws help in this activity and enable the Prairie Dog to sit upright and scan its immediate environment.

Wild Notes

Its diet consists mainly of grass but also shrubs, herbs and roots - depending on the season and availability. The Prairie Dog lives in closely-knit groups called coteries, which create their own network of tunnels for sleeping, storing food and caring for young.

The female is pregnant for 34 days and will have a litter of between 2 and 8 young underground once a year. Pups open their eyes at around 30 days and will remain below ground for up to seven weeks before eventually venturing outside. Predation, disease, infanticide, habitat loss, poisoning and hunting all mean that Prairie Dogs generally only live between five and seven years at most in the wild.

Conservation

Listed as Least Concern because its population remains widespread across the grasslands of North America, there are an estimated 18 million individuals in existence. However, numbers have declined in certain parts of its range.
 

Did you know?

The Black-tailed Prairie Dog has an unusual ‘jump-yip’ display where it stands up on its hind legs and throws its forefeet into the air while making one of its variety of calls. The action usually leads prairie dogs nearby to do the same.

The Fota Connection

The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is experiencing a revival of sorts at Fota, having seen a group of six individuals arrive from Belfast Zoo in recent years. The group shares an island with the Lion-tailed Macaques and grazes on grass as well as seeds that are scattered by Fota Wardens from time to time. The hope is that they will breed and increase their numbers in the coming years.

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