A close cousin of the ground squirrel, the Black-tailed Prairie Dog is a heavy-bodied rodent with a black-tipped tail. Prairie dogs have large eyes, short tails and brownish-tan pelage.
Prairie dogs play an important role in the prairie ecosystem. They serve as a food source for many predators and leave vacant burrows for the burrowing owl, the Black-footed Ferret, the Texas horned lizard, rabbits, hares, and even rattlesnakes.
Prairie dogs are very social animals. They live as a group in prairie dog “towns” which range from one to over 1,000 acres. These towns are subdivided into wards that are arranged like counties within a state. Wards are further subdivided into distinct social units called coteries. A coterie usually consists of a single adult male, one to four adult females, and any offspring under two years of age. Movement between wards is uncommon; however, among family members, prairie dogs greet each other with bared teeth with which they “kiss” as a form of recognition.
Prairie dogs are strictly diurnal animals. They are most active during the cool hours of the day, when they engage in social activities such as visiting and grooming each other as well as feeding on grass and herbs. When prairie dogs are out, a sentry perches on the volcano-like ring that surrounds the burrow. Should a predator or any other danger become evident, the sentry will bark out a warning, after which the community will dive into their burrows and wait for the “all clear” call before venturing out again.
Prairie dogs are native to short-grass prairie habitats of western North America. They avoid heavy brush and tall grass areas due to the reduced visibility these habitats impose.