Fun Prairie Dog Facts For Kids

Moumita Dutta
Jan 17, 2023 By Moumita Dutta
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Monisha Kochhar
Fact-checked by Spandana Kantam
Fun Prairie Dog Facts For Kids

Don't be fooled by the name - a prairie dog is in fact a burrowing rodent from North America's grasslands. There are five species of this animal - black-tailed prairie dogs, Gunnison's prairie dogs, white-tailed prairie dogs, Utah prairie dogs, and Mexican prairie dogs.

Among them, the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) is the most popular one. These native North American individuals are a type of ground squirrel found in parts of Canadian Prairies, the northern state of Mexico, and the western part of the Mississippi River.

Though prairie dogs' general food is various types of grasses, seeds, weeds, and sometimes insects, they are prey for many animals such as coyotes.

Prairie dogs are fascinating animals and have unique ways of communication. Their intelligent and strategic method of digging a burrow to create tunnels and various posts is impressive.

However their population is gradually decreasing, and some of them are already declared endangered. Keep reading if you want to find out some amazing details about this animal living in the Great Plains.

If you want to know more about other animals, check out Northern short-tailed shrew and Chinese hamster facts.

Prairie Dog Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a Prairie Dog?

Prairie dogs are a particular type of ground squirrel native to North America.

What class of animal does a Prairie Dog belong to?

North America's native rodent prairie dog belongs to the class of mammals.

How many Prairie Dogs are there in the world?

The population of prairie dogs has reduced dramatically over the years. There used to be hundreds of millions of prairie dogs of each species, but today there are only around 10-20 million black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) and 8% of the original range of white-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys leucurus) left in the world.

Other prairie dogs faced almost the same range of decrease in number.

Where does a Prairie Dog live?

The prairie dog colony is primarily found in grasslands in the Great Plains of North America. Some prairie dogs are found in the northern states of Mexico. Prairie dogs are also spotted in the west of the Mississippi River in the United States, and a small number of them are found in a few eastern locales.

What is a Prairie Dog's habitat?

Traditionally, a dry, flat, vegetated grassland is the most suitable habitat for prairie dogs. Prairie dogs dig their underground burrows in fine or medium-textured soil.

Prairie dogs take a lot of time to build and rebuild their burrows, and they very strategically choose an area that helps them control their body temperature throughout the year.

Generally, the burrows can get up to 100 °F (38 °C) warm in summer, and −35 °F (−37 °C) cold in winter. The burrows of prairie dogs are mostly 6.6–9.8 ft (2–3 m) below the ground with a length of 16–33 ft (5–10 m) and six entrances of 3.9–11.8 in (10–30 cm) in diameter.

Prairie dogs are smart enough to maintain certain chambers inside their burrows. A special chamber of 6.6-9.8 ft (2-3 m) is maintained for females, and their young ones called the nursery chamber.

The burrows also contain other chambers or tunnels for various functions like chambers for the night, chambers for winter, a chamber for air, a chamber for listening, sleeping chambers.

The air chamber protects the prairie dogs in case of a flood. They also have one comparatively less deep chamber of about 3 ft (1 m) to hide from potential predators.

Who do Prairie Dogs live with?

Being very social animals, prairie dogs prefer living together in large colonies underground. A family group of prairie dogs known as coteries has one male, a few females, and their offspring. Together they share food and groom each other. When it comes to looking out for predators, prairie dogs share a great sense of responsibility to protect each other.

How long does a Prairie Dog live?

A considerable number of prairie dogs do not live past their first year due to the rate of predation being extremely high. As for the others, the female prairie dogs can live a healthy life up to eight years in the wild, and males can live up to five years.

However, domestic prairie dogs under the protection and care of humans can survive more than eight years.

How do they reproduce?

The mating among prairie dogs can be a very dramatic event. Unlike other highly-fecund rodents, prairie dogs are not high reproducers.

Mating occurs once a year, and females go into estrus for only a few hours. Changes in the behavior of females like dust-bathing, self-licking of genitals, and underground consorting are some signals of the estrous cycle.

To maximize their chances of cultivating the next generation, they often resort to strategies like polyandry and polygyny. During the mating season, very intense competition for mates takes place.

The male prairie dogs become more active and aggressive than ever. A polygynous mating system occurs when the dominant male mates with a group of reproductive females during one mating season.

To hype up the drama, the reproductive females practice polyandry to increase their reproductive success by mating with two or more males outside the family group. The mother then is blessed with litters of three to eight pups but only half of them live past their first year.

Mothers take great care of the young ones. While the mothers are busy nursing the chambers, the males look after the territory and burrow.

The young ones do not surface for the first six weeks and stay underground. Prairie dogs are generally fully grown within five months.

What is their conservation status?

As prairie dogs are prone to certain deadly diseases, the number of Gunnison's prairie dogs, black-tailed prairie dogs, and white-tailed prairie dogs has reduced drastically in recent years. Though their conservation status is classified as being of Least Concern, a huge decrease in the number of prairie dog colonies has been noticed.

Prairie dog hunting and attacks from a predator are also reasons for their threatened situation. Utah prairie dogs, and Mexican prairie dogs, on the other hand, have been declared endangered species.

Prairie Dog Fun Facts

What do Prairie Dogs look like?

Prairie dogs are little creatures with small round heads and short limbs with claws. They have sharp black eyes, and their ears are shorter compared to the entire body. They have silky brownish-yellow fur. However, their belly area is whitish or buff-white. A three to four inch tail adds to the prairie dog's looks.

Prairie dogs have an interesting habitat.

How cute are they?

With their short limbs and short ears, prairie dogs are quite sweet-looking. The young ones generally have cute, playful natures.

How do they communicate?

Like any other species, prairie dogs have a very interesting way of communicating. They vocalize for the most part, but physical communication is common practice in the prairie dog colonies.

In a prairie dog colony, they greet each other with a prairie dog kiss or nuzzle. What we call kissing is actually an act of affectionate teeth touching in the prairie dog colonies.

How big is a Prairie Dog?

The species of prairie dogs are stout-bodied rodents that can grow up to 12-16 in (30-40 cm), including their tail that is almost twice that of ground squirrels.

How fast can a Prairie Dog run?

Despite having really short limbs, prairie dogs can run very fast. This species almost has a speed of 35 mph, which is quite fast for a rodent.

How much does a Prairie Dog weigh?

Prairie dogs generally weigh between 1-3 lb (0.5-1.5 kg). However, their body mass depends a lot on sexual dimorphism. Sexual dimorphism is most visible in the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) and least in white-tailed prairie dogs.

What are their male and female names of the species?

The species of prairie dogs do not have specific names for their male and female, however, male squirrels are referred to as boars, and the female ones are called sows.

What would you call a baby Prairie Dog?

The young ones of this species are referred to as pups.

What do they eat?

A prairie dog's diet mostly consists of a variety of seeds, roots, stems, weeds, and grasses of various species. Despite being herbivores, they do sometimes eat insects. Their water intake from plants is generally enough for them to survive. Pregnant prairie dogs do also include snow in their diet during winter, to get extra water.

Are they dangerous?

Prairie dogs do not have aggressive behavior in general. However, they might get competitive during mating. Cases of prairie dogs killing squirrels have been recorded but they do not harm humans.  

Would they make a good pet?

Prairie dogs have an active, playful, and sturdy nature. Rodents have teeth that grow continually throughout their lives and prairie dogs are no different. They can bite occasionally, and have a strong musky smell but with proper attention and care, they can make good pets. In fact, they survive longer in captivity.

Did you know...

The genus of prairie dogs, Cynomys, derives from a Greek word that means 'dog mouse'.

The warning call a prairie dog uses is a lot similar to a dog's bark and thus, the origin of the name.

Prairie dogs suffer from dichromatic vision. It is a type of color-blindness that allows them to see only two of the three primary colors.

Prairie dogs are extremely smart when it comes to looking out for predators. They have an advanced vocabulary that helps them warn each other. What might seem simple repetitive squeaky sounds to a human ear, are actually advanced level alert calls for prairie dogs.

Coteries of prairie dogs are considered to be keystone species as burrowing owls, red-tailed hawks, ferruginous hawks, coyotes, mountain plovers, American badgers, black-footed ferret, and other species depend on them for food and burrow for nesting. Some grazing species like mule deer and plains bison also rely on the land used by coteries for grazing.

Characteristics and health issues

This keystone species is threatened by a number of health issues. Serious diseases like cancer, plague, and ringworm are common among prairie dogs. Prairie dogs in captivity can suffer from dental disease, heart disease, respiratory disease, and obesity. Prairie dogs in the wild suffer due to parasites like ticks, fleas, and other various intestinal parasites.

What states do Prairie Dogs live in?

Prairie dogs are mostly found in states like Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Among these states, Colorado has the maximum population of prairie dogs.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other mammals including brown hare, or leopard seal.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our Prairie dog coloring pages.

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Written by Moumita Dutta

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

Moumita Dutta picture

Moumita DuttaBachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

A content writer and editor with a passion for sports, Moumita has honed her skills in producing compelling match reports and stories about sporting heroes. She holds a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Calcutta University, alongside a postgraduate diploma in Sports Management.

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Fact-checked by Spandana Kantam

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Political Science and Sociology

Spandana Kantam picture

Spandana KantamBachelor of Arts specializing in Political Science and Sociology

Spandana holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from Acharya Nagarjuna University. She has a passion for writing and enjoys reading crime and thriller novels while listening to RnB music in her free time.

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