BLACK-TAILED PRAIRIE DOG
HABITAT AND RANGE
Cynomys ludovicianus occupies narrow bands of short to mid-grass prairies from central Texas in the south to just north of the Canadian-United States boundary. Historically, they were found from Nebraska in the east to Montana in the west and from Canada in the north to Mexico in the south.
Closely related to the ground squirrel it has yellowish to reddish brown fur on its back and sides and lighter colored fur under its neck and on its chest. It has small ears on the sides of its head, a long body, small front paws with long claws, and a short, black-tipped tail.
Prairie dogs are vegetarians, primarily feeding on grasses and other prairie plants. At the zoo they are fed hay, cat, dog, rabbit food and rodent chow.
REPRODUCTION AND LIFESPAN
Their rate of reproduction is slow when compared to other rodents. Each female produces one litter per year of about 4 pups in March and April. The young emerge from the burrows after about 6 weeks. Black-tailed prairie dogs live about 3 years in the wild and up to 8 years in captivity.
Intensive efforts at eradication of these animals by ranchers have reduced the species to a few isolated populations associated mainly with protected lands. Burrow entrances descend almost vertically. A few feet below the surface there is an alcove that provides temporary refuge from predators. At the bottom of the entrance shaft, numerous tunnels run out horizontally leading to nest and toilet chambers. The mound of the tunnel entrances serves as an outpost for predator lookout and diversion of floodwaters. Their tunnels can reach up to 14 feet in depth. At the zoo, there is a concrete slab 10 feet below the surface to prevent any external digging. Prairie dog towns can become very large, housing up to a thousand individuals. Towns are divided into neighborhoods, which can then be divided into smaller family groups.
A family group or coterie is made up of a male, one to four females and their young. Prairie dogs are very vocal animals. They have lots of different calls. They use yips, growls, chattering, barks and chirps. When there is danger, prairie dogs have a call that is a chirp and a wheeze. Once one prairie dog starts the warning, others will continue. When it is safe, the prairie dog will leap in the air and yip. Other prairie dogs will hear the all-clear call, and soon the whole town will be yipping and jumping.