While you’re at Reptile Gardens, swing by and visit our Prairie Dog Town. Get down to prairie dog level in our underground bubble and watch these little furry creatures frolic and play!
What is a Prairie Dog Town?
Prairie dog towns are a maze of underground tunnels. They can cover hundreds of acres and include a number of family groups called coteries. These furry little friends are also quite the engineers, as these towns also have built-in drainage in case of heavy rains or flooding. The towns are also equipped with small listening chambers just below the surface to allow prairie dogs to hide, yet be near enough to the surface to hear predator movements.
Behavior: Social, but Aggressive
Prairie Dogs are highly social, but their relationships with each other change from season to season. In the spring and summer, they are usually relaxed, friendly, and affectionate. Fall and winter months can be full of drama - males often become aggressive and fight with each other.
When prairie dogs from different coteries meet, it can be intense! Territorial arguments often take place - they stare at each other, chatter their teeth, flare their tails, and sometimes even fight and chase each other. But, they have also helped other family groups by warning each other of predators or other signs of danger.
Strangers entering a town beware: They are also aggressive toward outsiders and will often kill them rather than assimilate them.
Prairie Dog Fun Facts
- Prairie dogs are members of the squirrel family, which includes ground squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots.
- The "dog" part of their name is from the barking sound they make.
- This bark-like call is the most sophisticated of all natural animal languages - they have distinctively different sounds for specific predators.
- Coteries usually include one male, one to four females, and their young up to 2 years of age.
- Prairie dogs recognize each other by touching their front teeth together; this is also known as a kiss.
- Prairie Dogs can run up to 35 miles per hour for short distances!
Benefits of Prairie Dogs
Prairie dogs are an important part of the prairie ecosystem. It was recently discovered that their digging aerates the soil and allows for better water penetration. Also, their nitrogen-rich dung improves soil quality and vegetation. They are also a key species for other animals: foxes, coyotes, weasels, snakes, hawks, eagles, and the endangered black-footed ferret are just a few of the many predators that rely on prairie dogs for food.
Stop by and stay a while at our Prairie Dog Town. Observing these incredibly social animals is fun for the whole family, and seeing them interact at a ground level is an amazing experience!
Conservation Status: Vulnerable
The prairie dog population has dropped by 98% since the turn of the 20th century - an estimated five billion prairie dogs once lived on millions of acres of grass prairies across western North America. This decreased population can largely be attributed to ranchers and farmers who consider prairie dogs as pests and have been intent on removing prairie dogs from their land to allow for growing crops and grazing land for livestock.