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Fast Facts:

  • Prairie dogs really aren't dogs at all. They are rodents. They got the name "dog" because they emit a warning "bark".

  • Prairie dogs have a complex communication system that involves body language and verbal cues.

Black tailed Prairie Dog

Scientific Name Cynomys ludovicianus
Classification Phylum Chordata, Class Mammalia, Order Rodentia, Family Sciuridae
Status Prairie dog populations in the wild have been greatly reduced. In the early 1900s, prairie dog towns covered more than 100 million acres. Today, colonies occupy no more than about 2 million acres in the U.S.
Range North America
Habitat shortgrass and mixed prairie
Diet In the wild, prairie dogs feed primarily on grasses and other plants. They may also eat the eggs and hatchlings of burrowing owls.

Length: 11 to 14 inches
Weight: 32 to 50 ounces

Print Fact Sheet Prairie Dog


While prairie dogs are viewed by some as a nuisance, they actually have several important roles in the prairie ecosystem. As they construct their underground towns, they help aerate and enrich the soil.

More than 150 other species such as burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks, and black-footed ferrets rely on prairie dogs. In fact, the decline in the number of prairie dogs is believed to be a major factor in the near extinction of the highly endangered black-footed ferret. The ferrets eat prairie dogs and use their burrows for shelter.

Special Features

  • Prairie dogs live in large underground "towns" connected by underground tunnels.
  • The largest prairie dog town on record was home to an estimated 35 million animals and covered 10 square miles.

Social Structure & Behavior

Prairie dogs are preyed on by other animals including hawks, snakes, and other carnivores. They live in communities to help protect them from predators.

When danger lurks, a prairie dog will stand on its hind legs, stretch its body toward the sky, and emit a warning yip. This signal will send all of the town members scurrying to the safety of their underground burrows.

Prairie dogs greet each other by touching noses and 'kissing'. As conflicts arise between prairie dogs, they will circle each other and chatter. A fight may ensue if one does not back down.

Prairie dog towns are divided into wards, which are composed of family units called coteries. A coterie usually consists of an adult male, three adult females, and their offspring. Prairie dog burrows have tunnels which lead to several different "rooms". Each room has a different purpose. Rooms may serve as listening posts, turn-arounds, nests & nurseries, or toilet areas. Prairie dogs usually create a large pile of dirt around the opening to their burrow. This mound serves as a look-out spot and as a buffer against floods.

Breeding & Care of Young
Sexual maturity = 3 years Gestation = 28 - 37 days

Average litter size - 4 pups Weaning - approximately 7 weeks of age.

As the young mature, the parents are busy constructing new burrows at the edge of the town. These "suburbs" create space for the growing family. When they are approximately 2 years old, young males leave their parental group to form their own families in a new territory.

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