Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Squirrel Facts: The Black-Tailed Prairie Dog

The black-tailed prairie dog is a large ground squirrel that is native to prairie grasslands of western North America. Its range extends from Saskatchewan, Canada in the north, to Chihuahua, Mexico in the south, with around half of its population living in the US states of South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. Due to loss of habitat and extermination efforts by farmers and ranchers, the species currently occupies only around one percent of the land that it inhabited a century ago.

Black-tailed prairie dogs live in colonies that number in the hundreds or even thousands. There was a prairie dog colony in Texas in the nineteenth century that covered 25,000 square miles and may have contained 400 million inhabitants. They excavate elaborate networks of tunnels on flat prairie land. Each tunnel entrance is marked by a mound of earth, created by the burrowing prairie dogs, that surrounds the hole. The mound is useful because it provides a vantage point for the prairie dogs to watch for predators, and also helps protect against flooding. The diet includes mostly grass, supplemented by other vegetation available.

There is a well-known managed prairie dog town in Lubbock, TX. Located in Mackenzie State Park, the Prairie Dog Town was established in the early 1930s and underwent a major renovation in 2004. It now includes a pavilion and viewing area and interpretive signage. I can remember visiting this attraction as a child, and back then it seemed kind of run down, but I would really like to see it with the new improvements.

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