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GenusCynomys (1)Named for their dog-like yip, prairie dogs are in fact rather large, stout, ground-dwelling squirrels (3) (4). Black-tailed prairie dog biologyBlack-tailed prairie dogs exhibit a high degree of social organisation, living in enormous colonies known as ‘towns’ containing from hundreds to millions of individuals (1) (7).
Black-tailed prairie dog threatsPrairie dogs have suffered from habitat loss and persecution as ranching and farming has expanded during the past 50 years or more (1) (4). Black-tailed prairie dog conservationStill widespread, relatively common, and existing in a number of protected areas, the black-tailed prairie dog is not considered to be under any serious threat of extinction in the foreseeable future, and conservation measures are therefore limited (7). There are many fascinating facts related to black-tailed prairie dog, which belong to the order ‘Rodentia’. Five species of prairie dogs are found worldwide - Black-tailed Prairie Dog, White-tailed Prairie Dog, Gunnison’s Prairie Dog, Utah Prairie Dog and Mexican Prairie Dog. The majority time of these prairie dogs is spent in eating, visiting and grooming each other. These prairie dogs spend most of the summer hot days sleeping in their burrows and come above the ground only during the early mornings and evenings.

The black-tailed prairie dog is generally tan to pinkish-brown above and whitish to buff coloured below, and is named for the distinctive and diagnostic black tip to its short tail (4). As agriculture and livestock ranching claimed habitat previously used by these rodents, the prairie dogs became vilified by farmers and the target of poisoning campaigns (1).
The Prairie Dog Coalition has been established to protect the animals and restore prairie dog ecosystems, as well as aiming to raise public awareness of the plight they face at the hands of agricultural expansion and misinformed farmers (10). It is being estimated that more than 170 vertebrate species are affected by the prairie dog existence. Coat colour varies slightly with the seasons, with body hair being tipped black in winter but white in summer (5). Prairie dogs are widely considered a pest and exterminated through poisoning and shooting for destroying cultivated crops (8). As a result, the former range and numbers of the black-tailed prairie dog have been dramatically reduced, and the considerable reduction in population numbers has also seriously threatened, amongst others, the black-footed ferret (classified as Extinct in the Wild), for which they were virtually sole prey (5). Unlike the other species of prairie dogs found world-wide, the black tailed prairie dog does not hibernate in the winter and can often be seen above ground level during mid-winter.

To get some more interesting facts and amazing information on this unique species, read the pointers given below. Interestingly, after emerging from the burrow, but prior to the end of lactation, pups may nurse from females other than their own mother, an example of ‘cooperative breeding’ (7).
Females can live up to eight years of age, whereas males tend not to live longer than five years in the wild (7).The black-tailed prairie dog is diurnal and active throughout the year (7). Unlike many other species of prairie dog, these animals do not hibernate, although when the winter weather is extremely cold or snowy they may spend extended periods of time underground (2). Most prairie dogs forage close to their burrows when possible, moving into distant foraging areas only when forced to do so by local shortages of green shoots (7). While prairie dogs are out foraging, a sentry perches on the volcano-like ring that surrounds the burrow and watches for predators.

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