prairie dog

Prairie Dogs: All Prairie, No Dog!

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The Baked Potato of the Great Plains

Well Defenders, the year is coming to an end and that means we are going to have an exciting new year, filled with brand new animals of the week and lots of new blogs!  That’s right everyone 52 new AOTWs!! I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t wait! For the rest of 2018 we still have some amazing AOTWs coming up and this week is one of my favorites, and another resident here at the Critter Squad Wildlife Defenders zoo. To me, they look like little fuzzy baked potatoes, and when they bark they are the cutest things ever. We have two amazing Prairie Dogs in the Critter Squad Wildlife Defender zoo, and they are very active and LOVE eating hay. These little rodents are strictly herbivores and have quite diverse diets. Prairie Dogs are known to eat different foods at different times of the year, and their diets change with things happen around them. Dry periods, rain seasons, health issues, and predators all affect a Prairie Dog’s particular diet at that time. This is called being a selective opportunist.

Where do Prairie Dogs live?

Prairie Dogs are found in the center of North America and inhabit most grassland habitats. Prairie Dogs do inhabit multiple style grassland habitats with one example being the sagebrush steppe. Well dispersed through the Great Plains region, Prairie Dogs do prefer building their homes in soil types with rather specific soil qualities that allow for better burrowing.

Are Prairie Dogs really dogs?

Don’t worry, you are not the only person to ever ask if Prairie Dogs are actually dogs or not. In fact Prairie Dogs are not dogs at all, they are rodents! Dogs and rodents have many differentiating characteristics and a well known difference is their teeth. Rodents have those long yellow/orangish ever growing teeth and dogs have those very well known K9 teeth. We could do a really long blog on the differences between canines and rodents, but let’s cut to the chase…why are Prairie Dogs called dogs if they are not actually related to dogs? They get this name from the sounds they make when they communicate. Prairie Dogs make multiple noises and according to scientist and zoo keepers they make an alarm sound that sounds like a dog barking, giving them the name Prairie Dog.

Is it true that Prairie Dogs are really good at communicating?

You heard right defenders,  Prairie Dogs are most certainly good at communicating and scientists that study them claim they are able to communicate all kinds of details about predators in the sounds like make. The details in the sounds will tell other Prairie Dogs things like, size, location, how fast it is moving, along with other amazing details these social animals can share with each other. Scientists suggest this a detailed form of language and believe that other noises are directly related with colony health, foraging times and successful mating.

Do Ferrets and Prairie Dogs get along?

Ferrets and Prairie Dogs have a long history together and their populations are directly affected by each other. Prairie Dogs are regularly preyed upon by multiple predator species, including birds of prey, Coyotes, Black Footed Ferrets and others. Ferrets are carnivorous predators that specialize in eating Prairie Dogs and well over 75% over their diet consists of these pudgy rodents. In fact the Black Footed Ferrets almost went extinct when humans decided to complete mass huntings and poisoning in attempts to exterminate the Prairie Dog. As humans wiped out the ferrets main food source the ferret populations rapidly declined.

Is it true that Prairie Dogs are a keystone species?

The Prairie Dog is now considered a keystone species in their regions, and there is no argument over the fact that they hold a huge ecological value to the health of the habitat they live in, and other animals that inhabit that area. Prairie Dogs digging and build their homes creates huge potential for biodiversity to live and setup up shop as well. Animals take shelter in their burrows, predators have more options for finding prey, plants are known to thrive better in areas with prairie dog homes, and plant biodiversity is higher due to the Prairie Dogs eating a wide variety of foods and being selective at different times of the year. Their homes and burrows also help with things like water moving and irrigation of the rooting systems below.

Prairie Dogs are an incredible species that had a huge role to play on this planet. If you want to learn more about Prairie Dogs then head to our kids zone and try our awesome animal quizzes.  You can also head to the Critter Squad Wildlife Defenders YouTube Channel to watch videos on other animals animals. Thanks for reading!

sf Two sitting prairie dogs