This profile is on the black-tailed prairie dog. It will be introducing their background, life cycle, structure and function, evolution and an additional interest. It will also be going over their unique social structure and the way they form communities called prairie towns, which are a large system of burrows. The importance of burrows, in particular, to the black-tailed prairie dog cannot be overstated.
Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs
The black-tailed prairie dog’s scientific name is Cynomys ludovicianus that, colorfully, means “dog mouse of Louisiana.” It lives in North America in the Great Plains region of the United States. Its territory stretches all the way to the ...view middle of the document...
They are also born in litters of 3 – 5, most of the time, although up to eight are possible. They gain weight rapidly and grow hair during their time in the burrow. Their eyes open on week five, and by week six, they are ready to venture aboveground, where they spend most of their time playing. Because coteries are groups of three or more adult females and usually only one adult male living with closely related juveniles, they sometimes engage in communal nursing and adults without offspring help care for the offspring of others within their group. Prairie dogs reach sexual maturity at 1 to 4 years, with females maturing faster than males.
While prairie dogs might seem like ideal parents, they are the biggest risk to the survival of their offspring. Fifty percent of their children die through infanticide by other females within the coterie. The female who kills the young is usually closely related to them, which is unusual. She also often cannibalizes them afterwards. “Problems of maternal nutrition are probably the primary reason for the infanticide and cannibalism,” (Graves, 2001). However, there are other reasons too, like getting rid of future competition and reducing the likelihood that a prairie dog’s own pups will be the ones killed. Prairie dogs also face predation from snakes, larger mammals, birds of prey, and humans. One of their greatest enemies is the sylvatic plague, which can wipe out whole towns and is carried by fleas. “When a colony becomes infected with plague, 99.5% of the prairie dogs will die in a short period of time.” (Nervig, Thomas, Fong & Plows, 2002).
The prairie dog’s digestive system is like most mammals, in that they use their teeth to tear into and grind up food. Prairie dog teeth are large, sharp, and like most rodents, continue to grow throughout their lifetime. Prairie dogs keep them sharp by gnawing on food and other objects to form a chiseled shape. After prairie dogs swallow their food, it passes through the stomach where it separates into nutrients and waste. The nutrients are absorbed, and the waste passes in the form of pellets or liquid waste, which the prairie dog excretes.
The prairie dog diet is very diverse depending on climate and availability. While they subsist on grasses most of the time, they also eat roots, cactus, insects, and the scat of larger animals. This makes them opportunistic omnivores. However, because they require very little protein it is entirely possible for them to survive on an herbivorous diet. Of course,...