Blacktailed prairie dog

Cynomys ludovicianus

TAXONOMY

Arctomys ludoviciana (Ord, 1815), Upper Missouri River. Seven subspecies.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Chien de prairie, cynomys social; German: Schwarz-schwanz-Prariehund; Spanish: Perrito de la pradera.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

14.0-15.7 in (35.5-39.8 cm); males: 26.5-31.9 oz (750-905 g), females 24.3-28.9 oz (689-819 g). Brown or reddish brown, whitish below.

DISTRIBUTION

In Canada, restricted to southern Saskatchewan. In the United States, exists from Montana east to eastern Nebraska and as far south as Mexico; extirpated from Arizona.

HABITAT

Prefers open, flat, and arid short-grass plains. Can live in tall-grass prairies where grazing by other animals has lowered vegetation height.

BEHAVIOR

Live in family groups called coteries that are typically composed of a single adult male, two or three adult females and several nonbreeding yearlings and juveniles. Black-tailed prairie dogs do not hibernate for the winter but instead enter short one to three day torpor periods when under extreme cold and food deprived conditions.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Diet consists mainly of grasses, but other forbs are also eaten. Dietary preferences vary seasonally with strong preferences for prickly pear (Opuntia) during winter possibly because of its high lipid content relative to other plant species during winter.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Breeding is synchronous and occurs from February to March. Gestation is 35 days. Average length of lactation is 43 days but varies with litter size from 37-51 days. Average litter size of emerging pups is 3.1 and varies from one to six. Generally, prairie dogs are not sexually mature until after their second winter, although 9% of females and 2% of males breed as yearlings.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Although estimates of the historical habitat area occupied by black-tailed prairie dogs varies from 99 million to 384 million acres (40-155 million ha), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 2002 estimated the occupied habitat in 2001 at 1.4 million acres (0.6 million ha) indicating that less than 1.5% of the historical range is occupied. From 2000 to 2002, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has identified the black-tailed prairie dog as a candidate for listing as threatened under the U. S. Endangered Species Act. In Canada, the species has been listed as Special Concern from 1978 to 2000 by the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Internationally, the IUCN lists the species as Lower Risk/Near Threatened as of 1998. Prairie dogs were initially threatened from 1880 to 1920 by conversion of grassland to prairie and from 1918 to 1972 by widespread chemical control to reduce competition between prairie dogs and livestock. The greatest threat from the late 1980s to 2001 has been sylvatic plague, an exotic disease first accidentally introduced in the early 1900s.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Viewed as a pest by ranchers and farmers because of threat of burrow to livestock and competition with livestock for food. In prairie dog towns, plant productivity and quality is better and wild ungulates prefer to graze there. ♦

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