Colorado
© Mike Norton (Colorado)

Black-tailed Prairie Dog

Excerpts from Colorado Division of Wildlife Species Profile.  Click here for the full profile.

Overview

Prairie dogs are tan or light brown (the color of sand or dirt), to blend in with their habitat so raptors do not see them from the sky. Black-tailed prairie dogs are reddish cinnamon in summer and more reddish in the winter. They are chubby and have sharp teeth and black-tipped tails.  Adult males and females weigh from one to three pounds. The animals are 14 to 17 inches long.  There are different kinds of prairie dogs. The black-tailed are the most common.  Although they are called prairie dogs, they are members of the squirrel family.  Youngsters are called kits. A family group is called a coterie.

Habitat

Prairie dog towns are an integral part of prairie ecosystems and many other wildlife species interact or are dependent on the prairie dog town. Black-footed ferrets, prairie rattlesnakes, eagles, badgers, weasels and burrowing owls may all interact in a prairie dog town.

Conservation Status

The decline of black-tailed prairie dog populations is related to several factors, including:

  • sylvatic plague
  • direct loss of habitat to urban/suburban development
  • habitat fragmentation
  • conversion of habitat to agricultural uses
  • systematic poisoning
  • recreational shooting
  • inadequate regulatory mechanisms

Two of the most influential factors have been habitat fragmentation and the widespread occurrence of plague. Prairie dog populations have found it increasingly difficult to recover from plague events and repopulate suitable habitat. Habitat fragmentation hampers recovery of colonies by restricting recruitment, and may play a key role in the severity of epidemics.

Range

Black-tailed prairie dogs live on grassy plains or prairies in communities called “towns” which can vary greatly in size. Studies have found colonies with as few as 10 individuals and as many as several hundred black-tailed prairie dogs. Within the towns, prairie dogs are divided into smaller units: topographic subdivisions are called wards (for territorial defense), and smaller social units are called coteries. Prairie dogs communicate with each other using a variety of calls, especially the “alarm” or “bark” to alert the community to danger. Black-tailed prairie dogs are active during daylight above ground all year. However, during periods of cold or inclement weather, they may stay below ground for several days.

 

 

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