Prairie dog

Such a pretty and cute rodent, like a prairie dog, is increasingly adding to the lists of pets. This is not surprising, because it is very pleasant to stroke such a charming fluffy, and it is even more interesting to watch him. Let's try to characterize the prairie dog from different angles, considering not only its external data, but also its disposition, food preferences, places of permanent residence and lifestyle in general.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Prairie Dog

Photo: Prairie Dog

The prairie dog is a rodent, belonging to the squirrel family. This family is quite extensive, including animals that are diverse in appearance and lifestyle, which are united by a common origin and some identical features of the anatomical structure.

All squirrel relatives are divided into three types:

  • arboreal squirrels;
  • flying squirrels;
  • ground squirrels.

Ground squirrels also include prairie dogs, whose name is translated from ancient Greek as “dog mouse”. Outwardly, rodents are very similar to marmots and ground squirrels. Then an involuntary question arises: “Why are they called, precisely, dogs?”. It turns out that it's all about the sounds they make, they resemble puppy barking.

Scientists identify five varieties of prairie dogs, so that on the spacious prairies you can meet:

  • white-tailed prairie dog;
  • Mexican prairie dog;
  • Gunnison prairie dog;
  • black-tailed prairie dog;
  • Jutian prairie dog.

By external features, it is almost impossible to immediately determine what kind of prairie dog is in front of you, because they are all identical, they are distinguished by some morphological characteristics, for example, the structure and size of teeth. The differences lie in the variety of sounds made, which are different for each species. The tips of the tails of the Mexican and black-tailed dogs are black, while the tips of the tails of the other varieties are white. Differences between species are also manifested in their life activity, but this does not affect external data in any way, therefore only an experienced and knowledgeable specialist can accurately distinguish species.

Appearance and features

Photo: Mexican Prairie Dog

Photo: Mexican Prairie Dog

Again, we note that with all its appearance, the prairie dog resembles a marmot. Its dimensions vary from 30 to 38 cm, and weight – from one to one and a half kilograms (sometimes there are specimens and heavier). Females are smaller and weigh lighter than males. With such a size and weight, the dogs look quite well-fed, have a dense physique. Because of this figure, rodents look awkward. Their body is massive, and the paws and tail are short.

The coloring of these animals can be called camouflage, because it blends perfectly with the surrounding area. The ridge of the dogs is dirty yellow or yellowish-gray, sometimes with some reddishness. The abdomen has a lighter tone. The head, in comparison with the general tone of the body, looks darker. The muzzle is decorated with whitish stains, which are most noticeable on the chin and near the nose.

Video: Prairie Dog

The head of prairie dogs has a rounded shape and a pretty muzzle with large, dark, wide-set eyes that tirelessly scan the surroundings. The ears of rodents are so miniature that they are almost invisible under the coat. Dogs have rather large cheek teeth and narrow incisors located on the upper jaw. If necessary, the food is loaded into the cheek pouches like in shopping bags.

On the short legs of rodents, rather tenacious fingers with long claws are visible, which are very sharp and strong. The third toe of the front paws stands out forward and has a slightly longer length than the rest. It should be noted that although the paws are short, they are quite powerful, because they are adapted for digging very long underground labyrinths. The soles of the feet of prairie dogs are covered with hair. The tail is colored in the tone of the entire body, only in Mexican and black-tailed dogs it is equipped with a black tip. Its length can be from 4 to 11 cm.

Where does the prairie dog live?

Photo: Prairie Dogs

Photo: Prairie Dogs

Prairie dogs have a permanent residence permit on the territory of the North American continent, or rather, on the expanses of its prairies. Rodents occupy an area stretching from the southern part of Saskatchewan, which is located in Canada, and further captures a number of US states.

So, prairie dogs can be found in:

  • Kansas;
  • Wyoming;
  • North and South Dakota;
  • Texas;
  • Nebraska;
  • Utah;
  • Montana;
  • Oklahoma;
  • Colorado;
  • New Mexico;
  • Arizona.

Prairie dogs have chosen northern and central Mexico. They prefer semi-desert and steppe landscapes, where there is no high vegetation, it is not for nothing that they are called meadow, for them the presence of short or medium grass is enough. The grassy expanse of arid plains near any water source is an ideal habitat for these squirrels. Dogs try to avoid excessively wet soils and lowlands. Animals were also seen in mountain ranges at an altitude of more than three kilometers. Prairie dogs live collectively in dug holes, the corridors of which form underground labyrinth cities, where there are rooms for various needs.

Interesting fact: Labyrinths of underground tunnels can be up to 350 meters, and go down to 5 meters deep.

Now you know where the prairie dog lives. Let's see what she eats.

What does a prairie dog eat?

Photo: Prairie dog in nature

Photo: Prairie dog in nature

Although prairie dogs look very plump and slightly clumsy, their menu is dominated by plant-based dishes. The basis of the nutrition of dogs is grass, but sometimes rodents feast on all kinds of insects, replenishing the supply of protein in the body. While searching for their food, prairie dogs do not move far from their holes.

Rodents snack on:

  • flowers;
  • seeds;
  • foliage;
  • buds and shoots of various plants;
  • ripe fruits;
  • nuts.

In places favored by prairie dogs, the grass is noticeably balding, and the soil is clearly visible. Dogs carefully thin out nearby vegetation, which can block their view. Due to the fact that dogs are food competitors of cattle, they often suffer from the attacks of farmers, who in every possible way force them out of their inhabited territories.

These cute rodents cannot be called thrifty, because. they do not prepare provisions for the future, they do not build pantries, like many rodents. Some species hibernate all winter, and those that are awake eat almost any vegetation that is available in winter.

Mature prairie dogs living in captivity, in addition to fresh grass, are treated:

  • nuts;
  • vegetables and fruits;
  • grains;
  • hay.

In the autumn, dogs are happy to eat fallen leaves. Their diet is very similar to that of guinea pigs.

Peculiarities of character and lifestyle

Photo: Mexican Prairie Dog

Photo: Mexican Prairie Dog

Prairie dogs are collective and very sociable animals, living in large colonies that can number several thousand furry inhabitants. Animals are active during the day, doing not only feeding, but also other daily activities. They, like marmots or ground squirrels, like to stand in a column on their hind legs and monitor the environment.

The colony of dogs is divided into families consisting of a pair of males, several females (from 3 to 5) and cubs, in the amount from six to thirty pieces. The family bonds between the dogs are very warm and close, the animals can often be seen sniffing and brushing each other's fur.

An interesting fact: Each family has relative independence, so dogs vigilantly guard their possessions. If a stranger appears, then a conflict situation arises. The winner of the dispute can increase his land allotment, but not more than one meter.

As already noted, the underground settlements of prairie dogs are very intricate, deep and extensive. They descend to a depth of three to five meters, and are about fifteen centimeters in diameter. The equipped dungeon is very reliable and protected from landslides and floods.

An interesting fact: In the underground labyrinths, all rooms are specialized, some are used as bedrooms, others as birthing chambers, others as rescue bunkers from all sorts of ill-wishers.

The dogs even have organized separately dug latrines, which, when completely filled, are buried with earth and new ones are equipped. The whole life of these amazing rodents is very well thought out and well organized, everyone does his own thing, fulfilling his duties.

Among the dogs there are:

  • guards who ensure the safety of the settlement;
  • builders, equipping and digging new corridors, repairing old passages;
  • caregivers, teaching young animals, instilling in them the necessary life skills.

In general, prairie dogs have very close contact with each other, showing sociability and good nature. They have a well-developed system of various sound and gesture signals designed for various situations. They can be called peaceful, friendly and caring creatures with close family ties.

An interesting fact: The ritual of the so-called “kiss” speaks of trust in family relationships, when the closest relatives touch with open mouths in a sign of love and respect.

The black-tailed prairie dog is awake all year round, it does not hibernate in winter, it actively moves even in the snow. The rest of the dogs in the period from late August to March are in a state of winter suspended animation, so they actively gain weight before hibernation.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Prairie Dog Family

Photo: Prairie Dog Family

Little is known about prairie dog breeding. They become sexually mature at the age of three. The wedding season for these rodents happens once a year, and if the fertilization was successful, then the parents acquire offspring. The duration of pregnancy is from 28 to 32 days, childbirth usually occurs in the spring (April – May).

The number of newborns varies from two to ten babies. They are born completely helpless, naked and blind. A little more than a month old, they begin to see clearly. At the age of seven weeks, the babies gain independence and begin to make forays out of their hole. At the same time, they stop eating mother's milk and switch to a plant-based diet.

Interesting fact: In dogs, mature individuals often leave their homes, leaving them for young animals to live, and equip themselves nearby new holes. This suggests that animals are very caring.

It is worth noting that the grown males form their own families, and young females often remain to live in the parental clan. Under natural conditions, prairie dogs do not live that long. The age of males usually does not exceed five years, and females live up to eight. Tamed prairie dogs can live up to 11 years, because in captivity the environment is always favorable, and there are no external threats.

Natural enemies of prairie dogs

Photo: Prairie Dog

Photo: Prairie Dog

Peaceful prairie dogs are subject to attacks by various predators, both terrestrial and feathered, carrying out air attacks. It is not for nothing that these smart rodents have chosen collective habitat for their existence, because it is much easier to live in harsh wild conditions, where danger can lurk everywhere. Guard dogs are relentlessly vigilant, constantly monitoring their surroundings for any threats that may come from:

  • badgers;
  • black-footed ferrets;
  • coyotes;
  • Mexican falcons;
  • hawks;
  • cave owls

A developed network of communications among prairie dogs helps them not only communicate with each other, but also survive in various emergency situations. Clever dogs with their voice and poses report not only about the impending danger, but also clarify who exactly it comes from, from which side the enemy is approaching, and how he does it. As a result of such an alert, defensive measures may vary, depending on which enemy is approaching (badger, hawk or coyote). Dogs can quickly hide, but be near the exit of the hole, they can go deep underground, they can only move closer to the entrance to the hole.

An interesting fact: Zoological scientists compare prairie dogs with dolphins and primates by a highly developed level of communication.

The danger for prairie dogs can also come from creeping reptiles. There is evidence that undigested remains of these rodents were often found in the stomachs of rattlesnakes.

Sadly, the greatest enemy of prairie dogs is the man who exterminated the once vast populations of these squirrels. Farmers killed a huge number of prairie dogs, which, in their opinion, ate the fields intended for grazing livestock. All this led to the fact that the number of animals became many times smaller, which is very sad to realize.

Population and species status

Photo : Pair of prairie dogs

Photo: Pair of prairie dogs

To trace the changes in the size of the prairie dog population in more detail, let's turn to history. The white settlers who appeared on the American prairies in the nineteenth century exterminated a considerable number of animals belonging to the local fauna. Then, at the hands of people, many predators hunting prairie dogs died, which caused a huge leap towards an increase in the population of these rodents.

There is evidence that at the beginning of the last century on an area of ​​1000 square kilometers, there were about one hundred million individuals of prairie dogs, which actively began to devastate cultivated fields and pastures. Farmers began to wage a fierce fight against rodents, destroying them in huge numbers, which colossally reduced their population and brought animals to the brink of extinction.

Interesting fact: There is authentic data that is simply shocking, according to them, in 1905, the number of prairie dogs living in the expanses of Texas totaled approximately 800 million individuals, but at the end of the century there were only 2.2 million of them!

So, the population of prairie dogs has been greatly reduced due to barbaric human actions, now its numbers are gradually continuing to decline, which is very worrying for many conservation organizations that are taking measures to save these amazing animals.

prairie dog protection

Photo: Red Book Prairie Dog

Photo: Prairie dog from the Red Book

It is hard to believe that the prairie dog population used to be very numerous and did not experience any threat of extinction. In a short time, the situation has changed so much that now some species are of concern and may completely disappear, because their number has drastically decreased.

The culprit of such a disappointing situation is a person who often acts only in accordance with his own interests, forgetting about his younger brothers. Of the five varieties of prairie dogs, two are listed in the IUCN Red List, these include the Mexican and Utah (Utah) prairie dogs. The first of the endangered varieties listed is listed under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade.

The status of these dog varieties is that each of them is a small species, the number of which continues to decrease. The main limiting factors are human actions, leading to the displacement of animals from their permanent places of deployment. Currently, people protect prairie dogs in the territories of various national parks and are making attempts to resettle them again in previously inhabited areas. It remains to be hoped that these protective measures will bring a positive result.

I would like to note that prairie dogs look so cute and good-natured that they cheer up just looking at themselves. These fluffy fatties are very funny, and watching them is a pleasure. It is not for nothing that many began to get them as pets, because dogs are easy to tame, they are very sociable and affectionate towards their owner.

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