The Black-Tailed Prairiedog: A disappearing entity

By Dave Hanks

First, I must explain something about common names of species. By combining the words prairie and dog it means something totally different than when left separately. A prairiedog is not a dog but a rodent. A prairie dog is “Old Yeller”. Likewise, a butterfly is no fly but a butter fly is a nuisance at the dinner table. I think you get my point.

This rodent has a bulky, 12 to 14 inch long body with a 3 to 4 inch long, black tail. It has large, black eyes and sharp, thick claws used for digging. It is an herbivore but will eat eggs and some insects. About 2/3rds of its day is spent foraging.

Prairiedog towns are a complex network of burrows. The Black-Tail towns are somewhat larger than their cousin the White-Tailed Prairiedog. There can be from 4 to 15 individuals living on an acre of grassland. As many species prey upon this animal, sentries are always on duty. A sharp bark will send all scurrying down their holes. Both species hibernate, but the Black-Tail will periodically waken on warmer days and search for food.

Commensalisms are relationships where one species is unaffected but others benefit. Such is the case with Burrowing Owls and rattlesnakes which utilize the burrows dug by this rodent. Both the rodents and the snakes are considered by many to be harmful creatures, and this has contributed toward their demise.

This highly social animal has been reduced in numbers drastically due to the plowing up of the Great Plains for the planting of crops. Few spots remain where it can live. We have come upon this animal in national parks and a few isolated locations in Texas and the Dakotas. Hopefully, there will be enough of these areas preserved to guarantee this species survival. Genetic diversity is of great importance to the planet. May we preserve as much as possible!

(A Texas prairiedog on the alert)