The National Wildlife Federation

Donate Donate

Black-Tailed Prairie Dog

Black-Tailed Prairie Dog

Cynomys ludovicianus

Status: Not Listed

Classification: Mammal

Description

Black-tailed prairie dogs are small rodents with a height of about 16 inches. Their bodies are mostly tan, except for their lighter-colored belly. The easiest way to tell the black-tailed prairie dog from other prairie dogs is to look for its namesake black-tipped tail.

Range

Prairie dogs live in grasslands throughout the Great Plains. Their population health impacts numerous other species, so they are one of the keystone species of the West. Prairie dogs are very social and live in large colonies in underground burrows. Not only do prairie dogs live together, but they also share the responsibilities to look out for predators. While other prairie dogs are foraging for plants, a few prairie dogs will become look outs and watch for hawks, coyotes, or badgers.

Diet

Prairie dogs eat a variety of seeds, stems, roots, grasses, weeds, and the leaves of flowering plants. They also eat insects. Most of the water that a prairie dog needs to survive comes from the plants that it eats.

Behavior

Prairie dogs are very social creatures that reside in complex burrows belowground. These tunnels house many colonies or towns of prairie dogs. A family group is called a coterie. This is a polygynous mating system and is made up of one male and multiple females.

Prairie dogs are very vocal creatures with a highly sophisticated vocal language. Not only do they make high pitched yips and barks to warn about the presence of predators, but they have different warning calls for different predator types as well!

Life History

Female prairie dogs go through the estrus cycle once a year each winter for only an hour. Their litters usually have three to eight pups.

Conservation

Prairie dogs were killed in large numbers throughout the western United States because the prairie dog colonies disrupted farms and competed with grazing cattle. As the number of prairie dogs dramatically declined, it caused a ripple effect that impacted the success of other Great Plains species. Black-footed ferrets are now one of the most endangered mammals in North America because their chief food, the black-tailed prairie dog, has been reduced in numbers.

Fun Fact

Prairie dogs like to communicate with each other. They bark, yip, and whistle to signal the presence of predators and other dangers.

Sources

NatureWorks, New Hampshire Public Television

Scientific American

World Wildlife Fund

Get Involved

   Please leave this field empty

Happening Near You

You don't have to travel far to join us for an event. Attend an upcoming event with one of our regional centers or affiliates.

Learn More