Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog Pups Emerging at San Francisco Zoo


Spring means it’s time for Prairie Dog pups! At the San Francisco Zoo, the cute little pups have been popping-up out of their burrows, keeping zoo visitors entertained!



IMG_6170edited1PrairieDogPhoto Credits: San Francisco Zoo/ Marianne Hale

Prairie Dogs (genus Cynomys) are herbivorous, burrowing rodents native to the grasslands of North America. There are five species: Black-tailed, White-tailed, Gunnison's, Utah, and Mexican Prairie Dogs. They are a type of ground squirrel, found in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

In the United States, they range primarily west of the Mississippi River, though they have also been introduced in a few eastern locales. Despite the name, they are not actually canines. Prairie Dogs are named for their habitat and warning call, which sounds similar to a dog's bark.

Prairie Dogs are chiefly herbivorous, though they eat some insects. They feed primarily on grasses and small seeds.

Prairie Dogs are highly social and live in large colonies, or "towns", that can span hundreds of acres and may contain 15-26 family groups.

Family groups are the most basic unit if their society, and members of a family group inhabit the same territory. Members of a family group interact through oral contact or "kissing" and grooming one another, but they do not perform these behaviors with Prairie Dogs from other family groups.

They Call It “Puppy” Love

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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.

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3_prairie dog pupsPhoto Credits: Zoo New England / Franklin Park Zoo

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.

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Prairie Dog Pups Pop Up at NaturZoo Rheine

A passel of Prairie Dog pups popped up this spring at Germany’s NaturZoo Rheine.  Seven playful and social babies make the colony busy and active all day long.

Zbph_lPhoto Credit:  Eva Bruns/NaturZoo Rheine

The seven pups are from three different litters born to three different mothers.  All were born in the colony’s network of underground burrows and chambers.  In this extensive burrow system, there are special “rooms” for sleeping, toileting, and nursing babies.  The zoo's colony is home to 20 Prairie Dogs.

Young Prairie Dogs are born blind and hairless, and they remain safely underground until about six weeks of age.  The babies in the photos are seven to eight weeks old.

Prairie Dogs live colonies containing a few dozen to thousands of animals.  Their burrowing habits cause them to viewed as pests by ranchers in central and western North America, where they favor open grassland and rangeland.  Once numbering in the millions, their habitat has been fragmented and their numbers drastically reduced.  However, Prairie Dogs are not considered under threat of extinction at this time.

See more photos of the Prairie Dogs below.

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Prairie Dog Count on the Rise at El Paso Zoo


The baby Prairie Dog count, at the El Paso Zoo, is up to nine! The babies can be seen, outside the burrows in their exhibit, hanging with the rest of their family...keeping mom on her toes. 



11119093_10153211886122622_259194640189101805_oPhoto Credits: El Paso Zoo

Prairie Dogs are mostly herbivorous burrowing rodents that are native to the grasslands of North America. There are five species: Black-Tailed, White-Tailed, Gunnison’s, Utah and Mexican. In Mexico, Prairie Dogs are found primarily in the northern states, which lie at the southern end of the Great Plains of the United States. This area of Mexico includes: northeastern Sonora, north and northeastern Chihuahua, northern Coahuila, northern Nuevo Leon, and northern Tamaulipas. In the United States, the Prairie Dog’s range is primarily to the west of the Mississippi river, though they have been introduced in a few eastern locales.

Prairie dogs are named for their habitat and warning call, which sounds similar to a dog's bark. The name was in use as early as 1774. The 1804 journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition note that in September 1804, they “discovered a Village of an animal the French Call the Prairie Dog”. Its genus, Cynomys, derives from the Greek for “dog mouse”.

Prairie Dogs are stout-bodied rodents that grow to around 12 to 16 inches long (30 to 40 cm) and weigh between 1 and 3 lbs (0.5 and 1.5 kilograms).  They are mainly herbivorous, feeding on grasses and small seeds, but they will occasionally eat insects.

Highly social, Prairie Dogs live in large colonies called “towns” and in collections of families that can span hundreds of acres. A Prairie Dog town may contain 15 to 26 family groups, made up of a series of burrows with mounded entrances.

Mother Prairie Dogs provide most of the care for the young. In addition to nursing, the mother’s job is to provide protection for the nursery chamber and collect grass for the nest. Males participate by providing defense for the family territories and maintaining the burrows. The young spend their first six weeks below ground, being nursed. When weaned, they will begin to surface from the burrow. By five months, they are considered fully grown and can fend for themselves.

Ecologists consider them to be a keystone species. They are included in the primary diet of other prairie species, such as: Black-Footed Ferret, Swift Fox, Golden Eagle, American Badger and Ferruginous Hawk.

The Prairie Dog’s existence on the Great Plains is also valuable to the Burrowing Owl, who relies on Prairie Dog burrows for nesting. However, the rodent is, in general, considered a pest in its native area and are often eliminated or relocated. 

Prairie Dog Pups Pop Up at Maryland Zoo

The Prairie Dog habitat at the Maryland Zoo is popping with pups – literally!  The staff reports that new pups are poking their little heads out of their burrows daily.  They’ve counted 17 so far.


Black-tailed Prairie Dogs live a social life.  These rodents live in family groups called coteries, and many coteries group together form a colony or town of Prairie Dogs.  Members of a family group communicate constantly, often by “kissing” or grooming each other.   



Photo Credit:  Maryland Zoo

Native to the North American plains, Prairie Dogs are often considered pests by ranchers and farmers because they eat grasses and disturb fields.  But studies show that Prairie Dogs are an important prey species that plays a crucial role in the grassland ecosystem.  They are the primary food source of endangered Black-footed Ferrets, whose decline is associated with the extermination of Prairie Dogs in parts of the American West.

See more Prairie Dog pups below the fold.

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And Babies Make Three: ZooAmerica's Trio of Black-tailed Prairie Dog Kits


ZooAmerica in Hershey, Pennsylvania is now home to 11 baby Black-tailed Prairie Dogs. The babies round out the Zoo’s Prairie Dog colony to a total of 20. These playful and sometimes vocal rodents were first spotted at the beginning of May and continue to be an entertaining highlight for visitors to the Big Sky Country region of the Zoo. A member of the squirrel family, as adults they will grow to weigh between 1-3 pounds and 13-17 inches in length from nose to tail. Their lifespan in the wild is from 3-5 years ,but can be up to 8 years in captivity.

In the wild these rodents live on North America's prairies and open grasslands in only a fraction of their former numbers, in underground burrows. They make a series of tunnels, sectioned off for different purposes - sleeping quarters, nurseries and a latrine! Family groups, called coteries, share these burroww, their food, groom each other and supply protection from predators such as snakes, foxes and burrowing owls. 

Much of the Great Plains has been converted to farmland or pastures where Prairie Dogs are not welcome. Because their landscaping is considered destructive, they are often considered to be pests and killed. Where at one time they were arguably the most abundant mannal in North AMerica, about 98% of all Prairie Dogs were exterminated, while their range has shrunken to about 5 %.


Photo Credit: ZooAmerica

The Prairie Dogs are being bred at ZooAmerica to act as ambassadors for their species to teach and educate the public about their role in nature and why it is important to conserve and protect the places they are found. 

Mom Palms Prairie Dog Pup at Budapest Zoo


Hungary's Budapest Zoo is home to a large family of breeding Prairie Dogs. These pictures are a mashup of this year's litter as well as last year's. Prairie Dog "towns" can be easily identified by the large mounds of dirt which contain their tunnelled homes beneath. According to the San Diego Zoo, when a female Prairie Dog is ready to give birth, she goes to the nursery burrow. The young, called pups, are born hairless and with eyes closed. In the nursery, the mother will take care of her pups until they are about six weeks old and ready to venture aboveground. At about one year of age, the young Prairie Dog may leave to start a new coterie by taking over abandoned tunnels or by digging new ones.



Photo credits: Budapest Zoo

Prairie Pups Are Out in Force

It's baby prairie dog season at the Nuremberg Zoo in Germany and, lucky for us, photographer dark-ness spent two days there capturing prarie dogs doing what they do best: eating and greeting one another. As we mentioned in a previous post, prairie dogs live in "towns" of tens of thousands or more and touch noses to say hello.

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Open wide!

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More pics below the fold.

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Tiny Things Debut at the SF Zoo!

Earlier this week the San Francisco Zoo introduced some of their newest, and smallest, friends to the public. First we have two baby Emperor tamarin twins who will spend the next few weeks clinging tightly to mom's back. This species gets its name from the regal mustaches of adulthood. Secondly we have a feisty black-tailed prairie dog pup. Prairie dogs are a type of highly social ground squirrel that live in huge "towns" made up of countless individuals across hundreds of miles. They often make "house calls" on neighbors and greet each other by touching noses, which looks an awful lot like Eskimo kisses.

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Kisses for mom!

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Photo credits: Tamarins twins - Amy Hansen, Prairie pups - Marianne Hale