||Prairie dogs are generally sandy brown to cinnamon in color with grizzled black tips. Their belly is light cream to white.
||Prairie dogs have short, muscular legs and a short tail. Their bodies are covered in rather coarse hair with little fur underneath.
||Adult black-tailed prairie dogs are 14” to 17” (36 cm to 43 cm) long.
Prairie dogs are stocky, burrowing rodents that live in colonies
called towns. French explorers called them “little dogs” because of
the barking noise they often make. Today, about 2 million acres of
prairie dog colonies, comprised of five species, remain in North
America. The most abundant and widely distributed of these is the
black-tailed prairie dog, which is named for its black-tipped
Black-tailed prairie dogs are most active in the summer months
and spend their days foraging. This species does not truly
hibernate during the colder months and can be seen above ground in
midwinter. However, they may seek shelter underground for several
days during severe winter conditions.
In the spring and summer, black-tailed prairie dogs consume up
to two pounds of green grasses. They also eat flowers, seeds,
shoots, roots and insects when available.
The black-tailed prairie dog lives in densely populated colonies
scattered across the Great Plains from northern Mexico to southern
Canada. Occasionally the species is found in the Rocky Mountains,
but rarely at elevations over 8,000 feet.
All prairie dog species prefer open areas of vegetation,
commonly inhabiting grasslands. They do not tolerate tall
vegetation well, and avoid brush and timbered areas. In the Great
Plains region, black-tailed prairie dogs often establish colonies
near rivers and creeks.
Prairie dogs rarely come in contact with humans; however, they
are capable of carrying disease organisms, such as plague.
In addition, rattlesnakes and black widow spiders are frequently
found in prairie dog towns. Rattlesnakes often rest in burrows
during the day, while black widow spiders form webs in abandoned
prairie dog holes. Bites from both of these pests are rare, but can
be a threat to human health.
Prairie dogs are also a threat to local vegetation and livestock
due to their continual feeding habits.