The Small but Important Rodent

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

By: Tiffany Lu


Introduction:

These squirrel-like rodents are native to the grassland of North America. Prairie dogs, no surprise to many, are not dogs. These mammals, whose scientific name is Cynomys, live up to 3 to 4 years and weigh only 2 to 4 pounds! Prairie dogs belong to the squirrel family and are known for their bark-like warning call. In total there are five species of prairie dogs: Gunnison, White-tailed, Utah, Black-tailed, and Mexican. It is important to note that the 5 species do exhibit different behaviors; For example, the black-tailed species tend to have large coteries, while the Gunnison prairie dogs. Prairie dogs live in coteries made up of 1 to 2 breeding males and 3 to 4 females. Coteries can be compared to clans and family groups who live and interact together. This species is essential to the environment, but are currently facing threats to their population.


Habitat:


Prairie dogs reside on grassland and use the flat surface and soil to create underground burrows. Many locations that have a good population of prairie dogs are the lowlands of Canada, the Great Plains of the U.S., and near north of Mexico. Black-tailed prairie dogs dog to create “U” shaped burrows. The burrows have chambers, that are connected by tunnels. Each of these chambers has different functions. These organisms carry out everyday activities in these chambers like storing food, nursing the young, sleeping, etc. Each component of the burrow has a specific use. For instance, this intelligent creature is able to there are multiple exits to escape if a threat is exhibited.


Importance:


Multiple organisms and species rely on prairie dogs for food. For example, the extremely endangered black foot ferret, swift fox, golden eagles, bobcats, etc,-all rely on prairie dogs as a food source. The existence of prairie dogs allows for equilibrium within the food chain. Coinciding with this fact is their contributions to the environment by digging burrows. Many animals such as mice, moles, and rabbits hide in the crevasses in these burrows.

The digging which prairie dogs positively impacts the soil. While establishing their entrances, prairie dogs clip vegetation in the way. Thus, aiding the nitrogen uptake of these specific plants. Hence, their digging makes the soil more fertile and increases the amount of germination of seeds. Their actions increase biodiversity!

While many have blamed prairie dogs for overgrazing or destroying habitats, many details have been proven false. For example, many point the finger at prairie dogs for overgrazing land. However, the negative impact exhibited is relatively small. Besides, prairies dogs often prefer to settle in overgrazed land; This is because there are fewer plants in the way and there a clearer view of potential predators.


Current Isssues&Threats


Although prairie dogs are not critically dangered, with a population of 10 to 20 million. Although this statistic can be perceived as relatively high, their population has decreed by 95%. The numbers are still decreasing to the day. Prairie dogs are facing threats from global warming and climate change, disease, and pesticides. In particular. Pesticides have the largest impact on the population of prairie dogs. Pesticides are used to remove this organism from the land because they falsely believe that prairie dogs will disastrously harm their livestock. This usually ends up in the deaths. There are always alternatives to removing any living thing.


What can we do:

One can donate and follow organizations that help protect prairie dogs. Many can also educate themselves on the effect of pesticides on the environment and organisms. Just reading this blog is also a step forward into protecting these vital animals!


List of organizations:


-Defenders of Wildlife: https://defenders.org/

-Human organization: https://www.humanesociety.org/

-Wild Earth Guardians;https://wildearthguardians.org/

-Praire Dog Pals: http://prairiedogpals.org/support-pdp/

-The Prairie Dog Project: https://www.prairiedoghoogland.com/the-project-index


Thank you for reading this blog! Feel free to check out my previous posts and Instagram! Share this information with your daily and with friends.


Sources:

“Black-Tailed Prairie Dog.” Smithsonian's National Zoo, 10 Mar. 2020, nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/black-tailed-prairie-dog#:~:text=Prairie%20dog%20habitats%20are%20traditionally,to%20form%20colonies%2C%20called%20towns.

Burnaugh, Justice. How Climate Change Could Intensify Plague among Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs in the American West. 27 Feb. 2018, theecologist.org/2018/feb/19/how-climate-change-could-intensify-plague-among-black-tailed-prairie-dogs-american-west.

Hoogland, John. “Coloniality.” The Prairie Dog Project, www.prairiedoghoogland.com/coloniality.

“Prairie Dog.” Defenders of Wildlife, defenders.org/wildlife/prairie-dog.

Rosmarino, Nicole. “Prairie Dogs and Soil Impacts.” Great Plains Restoration Council, gprc.org/research/prairie-dogs-the-truth/prairie-dogs-and-soil-impacts/#:~:text=Prairie%20dog%20burrows%20act%20as,while%20helping%20to%20cool%20it.&text=In%20addition%20to%20digging%20up,nitrogen%20uptake%20by%20these%20plants.

Valentine-Darby, Patricia. “Prairie Dogs of the Southwest.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/articles/prairie-dogs-ecology.htm.

“What to Do about Prairie Dogs.” The Humane Society of the United States, www.humanesociety.org/resources/what-do-about-prairie-dogs#:~:text=Prairie%20dogs%20play%20an%20important,and%20allows%20seed%20to%20germinate.


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