Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Prairie dogs are not real dogs, even though they have "dog" in their name.  What they really are is rodents, like squirrels.  In fact, prairie dogs are squirrels.  They just don't live in trees, like the squirrels in my back yard. Instead, they dig really long, deep tunnels in the ground, and that's where they live.  So because they live in tunnels in the ground, prairie dogs are a type of ground squirrel.

There are five different species of prairie dog, and these are:  black-tailed, white-tailed, Gunnison, Utah, and Mexican.  There are more of the black-tailed prairie dogs than of the other types.  But the most important thing to know about prairie dogs is that they are extremely yummy to eat.  Okay, I will admit that I have never personally eaten a prairie dog, but they look very plump and juicy to me.  All I have to do is see the pictures of them and my mouth starts watering.

But the real reason I know that prairie dogs are so tasty is because lots of animals like to eat them.  And these animals include the black-footed ferret, swift fox, golden eagle, American badger, and ferruginous hawk.  In fact, prairie dogs are called a "keystone species" because they are really important for so many animals and birds to eat.  And in places where there aren't very many prairie dogs anymore, the other animals don't have anything much to eat.

Prairie dogs also do other good stuff for the environment, like for instance, the tunnels they dig are good places for mountain plovers and burrowing owls to make their nests.  And big animals like bison, pronghorn, and mule deer like to graze on the land where prairie dogs live.

But a lot of people don't like prairie dogs, and they go to a lot of trouble to get them off their land.  And the reasons they don't like them are (1) prairie dogs can eat crops, (2) prairie dogs can carry diseases such as the plague, and (3) horses might step in a prairie dog hole and break their leg.  Of these three reasons, the first two are true reasons, but the third one can't really be proved that it has ever happened.

Prairie dogs are very social animals, and that is why they like to live together in Prairie Dog Towns.  A family of prairie dogs usually has one male and 2 to 4 females.  Every year, a female has between 1 and 6 pups, and the pups nurse for about 30 days.  When the young prairie dogs get to be about 3 years old, the male of the family drives them away, and they go make their own families in another part of Prairie Dog Town.

What prairie dogs like to eat is mostly grasses and other plants, but sometimes they eat insects.  While some of the prairie dogs are eating, one is always watching out for scary predators.  When prairie dogs give a warning call, it sounds kind of like a dog's bark, and this is why the early explorers called these squirrels "dogs."  Prairie dogs can make lots of sounds to talk to each other, and they also make social visits and greet each other in a way that looks like they are kissing.  Which maybe they are.

The prairie dog tunnels can be really deep, like as deep as 16 feet, and they can go sideways for a really, really long way, like 98 feet.  The tunnels have several rooms, and they also have more than one entrance, so the prairie dogs have an escape route if they need one, such as when a snake comes to visit.  One good thing about the tunnels is that when rain water runs into them, it goes down to the water table so that there is not so much runoff and erosion.  Also the tunnels help break up the ground that gets packed down really hard by the big, heavy cattle grazing on it.

So that's pretty much the story of the prairie dogs that aren't really dogs.  Sometimes people keep prairie dogs as pets, but it's hard to find exactly the right food and stuff for them.  And it's not too much fun to have them digging tunnels through your walls and floors.  Sometimes prairie dogs also live in zoos, but they don't like to have babies there, so if they can live on the prairie, that is the best place.  But since I would really, really like to eat one, I asked Mom if we could get a prairie dog or two of our very own.  She said no, of course.  That's what she always says, which is why I am always feeling so deprived.

Anyway, another day, I will tell you about black-footed ferrets, because they really do get to eat prairie dogs.  And also I had a Special Request to write about black-footed ferrets sometime.  Maybe I will even do that tomorrow.  Or not.  You just never know what I will do.


  1. Mom said she came home one day and there was 1/2 a prairie dog on the back patio. That was a long time ago, BZ(before Zest). She only had one basenji and a lab back then and she doesn't exactly know what happend to the other 1/2. Dad was out of town then, so she had to call the neighbor to bury that back 1/2 that was left. Mom's a weenie about that sort of thing.

    Your friend,
    Zest, superstar in training

  2. I wish I could have been there because I would have just eaten up that 1/2 prairie dog and your mom wouldn't have had to get the neighbor to bury it. The next time that situation happens, you just call me, and I will be on the next plane out to Colorado!

    Your friend, Piper

  3. That was back when mom lived in New Mexico. Unfortunately, we don't have any prairie dogs in our yard here. Just rabbits and ground squirrels. New Mexico might have been a better place to live because mom says "And then there was the day the chicken came for dinner", but there wasn't anything left of that chicken except some (LOTS) of feathers. That was also a long time ago, BZ. But more recent than the 1/2 a prairie dog incident because then there was more than one basenji and a lab involved in that one.

    -Zest, superstar in training

  4. Dodi again:
    WOW...a Prairie Dog that isn't a dog. I've never seen one before, but I'd like to. People use to call my mom's Chihuahua, now passed on to dog heaven, a prairie dog because she looked like one when she sat up. That's what my mom told me.

    I can't wait to read about ferrets because I've never heard of them or seen one. My mom says when she worked that a lot of people liked to use the word "ferret" in letters and she got tired of them using that word - instead of search or figure out. Now I'm really confused about the word ferrets and if it's an animal or what.

    Love, Dodi and AP

  5. Dear Dodi,
    Mom says she used to have a CAT who sat up like a prairie dog to look out the window. I think this is a trick that maybe you should learn to do so you can entertain anybody who visits your house. And maybe they would also give you treats!

    I have heard of people ferreting out stuff before. Maybe that is what I am doing when I do in-depth research for my blog. I just never called it that.

    Your friend, Piper