Prairie Dog

Prairie DogPrairie Dog — The prairie dogs (Cynomys) are small, burrowing rodents native to the grasslands of North America. On average, these stout-bodied rodents will grow to be between 12 and 16 inches (30 and 40 cm) long, including the short tail. They are found in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In the U.S., prairie dogs are primarily found west of the Mississippi River, though they have also been introduced in a few eastern locales.

The highly social prairie dogs live in large colonies or “towns” — collections of prairie dog families that can span hundreds of acres. Families usually consist of 1 male and 2 to 4 females living in a strict pecking order. Prairie dog pups reach sexual maturity at about 3 years of age, and after their third winter the dominant male in a given family will drive them away, forcing them to establish their own families on the edges of the colony. The dominant male will defend the family’s borders against rival prairie dogs, and disputes are resolved with fighting. Prairie dogs are also aggressive against predators such as badgers and snakes. Prairie dogs are social animals, however, and often make social visits with each other, and greet each other with a sort of kiss.

The prairie dog is well adapted to predators. Using its dichromatic color vision, it can detect predators from afar and then alert other prairie dogs to the danger with a special, high-pitched call. Con Slobodchikoff and others assert that prairie dogs use a sophisticated system of vocal communication to describe specific predators. Prairie dogs also trim the vegetation around their colonies, perhaps to remove any cover for predators. Their burrows generally contain several routes of escape.

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