Five Prairie Dog pups recently emerged from their burrows at their exhibit located in Franklin Park Zoo’s ‘Nature’s Neighborhoods’, the new George Robert White Fund Children’s Zoo.
The pups’ birth date is estimated to have been around April 1. Prairie Dog pups are born blind and hairless, and do not make an appearance outside of the burrow until they are about six weeks old. The pups can now be seen exploring the exhibit alongside the adult Prairie Dogs.
“It’s hard not to be amazed by these incredible little creatures. Prairie Dogs are highly social animals, and it will be fascinating for our guests to watch the pups grow up,” said John Linehan, Zoo New England President and CEO.
Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are not actually dogs at all. They are small, stout, tan rodents with a lightly white or buff-white belly. They have short black tails, small ears, dark eyes and long claws used for digging.
Black-tailed Prairie Dogs are found in short-grass prairie habitats of western North America, from southern Saskatchewan down to northern Mexico. They form complex, widespread underground burrow systems, and avoid areas of heavy brush or tall grass due to reduced visibility.
They live in what are called “towns” or colonies. These colonies are further divided into territorial neighborhoods called wards. Within the wards are coteries, which are family groups comprised of a male, one to four females and offspring that are under two years old. They do not hibernate and can be seen emerging from burrows in mid-winter.
Their towns are known to be quite expansive, and they are considered to be pests by ranchers (burrow entrances become hazardous to livestock). In 1901, scientists in Texas reported finding a Black-tailed Prairie Dog town that allegedly covered about 25,000 sq mi (64,000 km2) and included 400,000,000 individual residents.
The species is currently classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN. Prior to habitat destruction, this species may have been the most abundant Prairie Dog in central North America.