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5 Prairie Dog Species: Surprising Facts & How to Get Rid of Them

Fatty prairie dog cartoon

The first thing that you need to know about these North American rodents is that they live in particularly large colonies. They could typically be found in the grasslands of western as well as central North America. There are five major species of prairie dogs that we are going to take a look at later in the article.

These animals are considered to be a rather keystone species mainly due to the fact that their colonies would usually create significant islands of habitats which benefit about 150 other species. However, while they are rather beneficial out in the wilderness, they are considered to be a pest when they are encountered in domestic gardening conditions. They are also a well-known food source for a range of different animals such as eagles, badgers, coyotes as well as the black-footed ferrets which are also known to be critically endangered. A lot of species such as the latter use underground burrows made by prairie dogs as their own homes.

1. Diet of this North American Rodents

These particular species of rodents usually consume foods such as forbs, sedges, roots, seeds and different types of grasses. However, they are also commonly known to eat insects as well.

2. Population

Prairie dogs used to number in the hundreds of millions of species throughout the entire country – maybe there were even more than a billion of these. They were likely to be the most abundant mammal encountered in the entire country. However, their population, due to a range of different reasons, has decreased by as much as 85%. Today, they may number somewhere around 10 to 20 million, which is a tremendous drop when you think about it.

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3. Range & Habitat

Now, taking things back to the past, prairie dogs were once found throughout the Great Plains ranging from Northern Mexico to Southern Canada. Their colonies were likely to occupy more than 40 to 80 million acres of land which is more than 20% of this 400-million acres’ region. This is absolutely tremendous when you think about it. However, as we mentioned above, their population has dropped significantly. They currently survive in small numbers in about 11 states in the SUA and in 1 province in Canada.

4. Behavior

Now, the first thing that you need to know about these North American rodents is that they are colonial animals, living in large groups and creating complex networks of lengthy tunnels which have a range of different openings. Colonies are usually identified particularly easy by the raise-burrow entrances. These raised burrows are specifically designated to provide the dogs with some extra height when they are on sentry positions. Prairie dogs are also rather social and they live in closely-knit groups of families which are known as coteries. They usually contain one or more adult female and one male and their entire young offspring. They are usually grouped together in larger formations called wards. Several wards construe a colony.

5. Reproduction

The reproduction of prairie dogs usually starts at March when is the beginning of their mating season. The gestation for pups born in April or May is around 33 to 38 days while the litter size ranges from 1 to 8 for 3 to 4 puppies on average.

【Read more about Prairie Dog】

5 Species of Prairie Dogs

That’s basically all that you need to know about the prairie dogs in general. Now, it’s also worth noting that there are 5 different types of prairie dogs. While it’s true that an entire eco-system relies on those North American rodents, it’s also important to take a look at each species individually to determine their characteristics. Let’s have a look.

1. The Black-tailed Prairie Dog

As unfortunate as it can be, the black-tailed prairie dogs have been wiped from existence of up to 99% of their population and their historic range just for the last 150 years. This is mainly due to the fact that they have little to no immunity at all when it comes to plague which is a disease that manages to continue decimating their vast colonies. This is the main reason for which they have been reduced to a few millions even though they actually amounted to billions. Poisoning as well as shooting of the black-tailed prairie dog continues as they were denied to be listed as endangered species back in 2009.

2. Gunnison’s Prairie Dog

With far more characteristic appeal than the previous species, the Gunnison’s prairie dog is also getting significantly reduced in terms of population. Main reasons for this are land development, gas and oil drilling as well as the aforementioned plague. As a result, their population has dropped by more than 98% across its actual historic range. They were once again denied endangered status back in 2016 and that’s why poisoning as well as shooting continues to reduce their numbers.

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3. Mexican Prairie Dog

With slightly larger look than other prairie dogs, this particular type is rather characteristic. Fortunately, the Mexican government effectively outlawed killing Mexican prairie dogs back in2004. This is the main reason for which the population doesn’t experience a definitive setback. However, the main danger for the animals is the agricultural development as well as the plantations of potato, nopal and maguey. In certain parts of their actual range they are also affected by the plague and ongoing droughts. They are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

4. Utah Prairie Dog

These still face habitat losses even though they are listed as threatened under the aforementioned act. This is mainly due to the plague as well as the livestock meddling and grazing in their natural habitat. The Utah Prairie dog is undoubtedly the smallest of the kinds and are also mostly susceptible to changes which affect their population. There are certain plans which emphasize on colony preservation and conservation.

5. The White-tailed Prairie Dog

These are usually found in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah as well as in a smaller area of the southern parts of Montana. At least 56% of their population is inhabiting land which is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Unfortunately, most of it is leased for gas and oil drilling. The white-tailed prairie dog got denied endangered species status and that’s why they are in serious danger.

How to get rid of prairie dogs?

Now, as we mentioned above, prairie dogs can also be a significant nuisance, especially to people who live in the plains and want to successfully handle plantations of different plants. This is mainly due to their feeding habits as well as because of their incessant digging. It is also worth noting that these are mainly herbivores and they truly love to snack on different types of vegetation and different plant roots. This is capable of causing significant amount of damages to farmers as well as to gardeners who can easily lose a portion of their overall harvest. This is especially true if there is a colony underneath it. What is more, prairie dogs can also cause quite a lot of structural damage to your house. This is mainly due to their incessant digging which could loosen up the foundations of your house or of any other structure that you might have in your backyard.

There are quite a few different ways with which you can actually get rid of prairie dogs. Some of them include:

Poison

Now, this is a convenient way that you can take care of the issue with prairie dogs. However, you should also be aware of the fact that this is effectively going to kill the animal. You can rest assured that there is an array of different poisons that you can get fairly cheap on the internet or at your local animal store. The easiest way to make the animal to take the poison is to mix it up with some other type of food that they commonly enjoy – vegetables, for instance.

Trapping

This can be both humane as well as lethal way of dealing with the problem, depending on the approach. However, this is also quite difficult if you haven’t got any experience in handling it. The traps, however, are unlikely to do you any good in the long run because the animals tend to reproduce particularly quickly and you won’t be able to keep up.

【Read more about Trapping】

Fumigants

These are particularly effective but they are also incredibly expensive, hard to control and also they are rather illegal in a lot of the states. This is also a particularly inhumane way to get rid of the animal as it’s going to suffocate and burn them effectively.

Conclusion

As you can see, this North American rodent could be particularly beneficial but it could also cause quite a lot of issues. It’s something that you need to take into account, especially if you are living over a colony. This could prevent you from growing any plantations and it’s an absolute menace that you have to take care of. This is the main reason for which you need to take actions as quickly as it is possible.

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