BLACK-TAILED PRAIRIE DOGS
Black-tailed prairie dogs often appear affectionate as they greet one another, as this group of youngsters is doing, with kisses, nuzzles, grooming, and playful behavior. These charismatic creatures are not dogs at all. Rather, they are stout, short-tailed, ground-dwelling squirrels that inhabit open plains and prairies of the North American West. Highly social animals, the black-tailed prairie dogs live in large colonies, called towns & were first described by Lewis and Clark in 1804-1806.
At that time, prairie dogs occupied over 100 million acres of the Great Plains. Decades of habitat destruction, massive eradication campaigns, unregulated recreational shooting, and plague have since decimated populations to less than 1% of their original range! Black-tailed prairie dogs are keystone species to the prairie ecosystem. Without the presence of the little “dogs,” prairies are biologically less healthy. Declining prairie dog numbers threaten dozens of other species linked with them for food or shelter. Biological oases, the huge complexes of tunnels, mounds, cleared areas, and clipped vegetation in prairie dog towns are associated with over 100 vertebrate animals. Biologists discovered that prairie dog towns hold about three times the density of wildlife and nearly double the number of species as prairie where the animals are absent.