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Animal: Prairie Dog

Why This Animal?

Prairie dogs are really interesting creatures to me. I have seen a town of them when I was on vacation once, and I found it fun and interesting to watch them. I also find them interesting not only because how they look and act, but how they have a house in the ground, and how they even have rooms set out for stuff, almost like an actual house. I also think it is pretty cool how they communicate with one-another. So that is why prairie dogs, in my opinion, are pretty interesting.

Food Web:

Grassland biome information (the prairie dog's biome):

The biome that Mrs. Bridge sent me to is the some-what dry and tree-less grassy biome of the grasslands for my research of prairie dogs. One thing that I have noticed here is that that there are barely any trees/forests, because the effects of droughts and fires make the conditions for them to live in hard. Also it is that the soil is too dry and thin for trees to survive in most grassland biomes. Grasslands I found out, have much more than the vegetation, which has hundreds of species of plants, and also the land, it's that it also holds more than 80 species of animals, and 300 species of birds. The grassland sure holds a lot of everything! There are many types of grasslands around the world. Some of the grasslands are tropical, and some are dry grasslands. The one that prairie dogs live in is the dry one. Grasslands are the same thing as prairies in North America, so if you hear about a prairie, they are talking about a grassland biome. If you are in South America though, the grassland biome is known as the pampas. Eurasia has the steppes, and in South Africa they are called the savanna and veldt. That means that the savanna biome and the grassland biome is almost the same thing, it just depends on where you live. There is both tall-grass and short-grass grasslands in the Midwestern United States. West of the Mississippi River it is moist and humid, the right conditions to allow for some tall grasses up to 10 feet. The summers in the grasslands are warm and humid, and the winters are cold, but not to the extreme. The farther west in the country you go, the temperatures become dryer. The moisture from the Pacific Ocean is blocked by the mountains, so that creates a dry air; instead of the humid air we have in Iowa. The short grass prairies are found there because of how dry it is, which makes it where it can't really grow the tall grass. The summers then are hot and the winters are very cold. It also doesn't have very much on the ground, like trees, so there is a constant wind. Most animals there have adapted to the open and treeless land in the way that they dig burrows. The burrowing owl uses the holes dug and lived in by prairie dogs for their nesting place. The average temperature for the prairie in January is 20°F, and it is 70°F in July. The annual precipitation is 10-30 inches, and we get 34.71 inches. Also our temperature is around 32°F in January, and it is 87°F in July. You can then see that we have higher temperatures in Iowa by over 10°F, and get 4.71 inches more than the highest prediction of the annual precipitation of the grassland.

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You can see by this map that the grasslands in North America are in the western part. Also there are some grassland biomes in other places in the world like, South America, Europe, Asia, and a little in Africa. The pampas in South America, the steppe in Asia, and some in North America, and the prairie in North America.
Those are all grasslands, but they might have a little different climate, but I'm sticking to the prairie because that's the one that the prairie dogs live in.
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This is a picture of prairie dog land. (A prairie/North American grassland)

The prairie dog has short hair so it can ventilate, which is needed with the some-what hot summers. It is also a good digger, and that is needed in the grassland also because of the constant winds (So they can get out of it), and so it can build itself a home underground with that skill. Their niche in the society is creating burrows that several different species can use. They also bring fertile soil from underground to the surface, and they act as a food source to most carnivore animals in the grassland (Even though they don't want that to be).

Physical Adaptions of the Prairie Dogs:

Some physical adaptations that prairie dogs have that help them out to live in their grassland environment that I have noticed with my research is like how they have claws so they can dig their homes/burrows. They also have fur to keep them warm, and which is the same color as their habitat to blend in and hide from predators (Camouflaging), they can also run/sprint fast, which I assume also helps with the predator situation. Prairie dogs are often seen standing on their hind legs, and they have developed strong hind legs so they can do that, they then can stand and look out for dangers and other intruders coming to their territory. Also remember when I said that there isn't too much of any water on a prairie? Well the prairie dogs have adapted to that, and they then get all their water from the plants they eat. Prairie dogs have sharp teeth, and that lets them eat the tough plants that grow on the prairie. Due to the case of flooding, prairie dogs have built the tunnels in their burrows at an angle to try to prevent flooding. Just in case that their burrow does get flooded, they have built a room above that acts as an air pocket. They then can wait there for the water to go down, and keep dry and safe as well.

Pictures below show some stuff that was gone over:

external image 463940750_97ffac251d.jpgPrairie dog's claws for the digging of burrows

external image Prairie_dog_camouflage.jpgPrairie dog camouflaging in with the background because of its fur color
external image running-dog.jpgPrairie dog running fast so it can possibly get away from a predator
external image standing_dog.jpgPrairie dog standing for the purpose of being on the lookout for danger
external image prairie_dog_photosculpture-p153801606512591340z8wb9_400.jpgPrairie dog getting the water they need from a plant
1034529368_9ba26872c1.jpgPrairie dog's sharp teeth to
eat the tough plants that grow on the prairie
Burrow.jpg This shows how the prairie dog's burrows are dug in angles. The circled room might also be the air pocket that I talked about.

Prairie Dog's Basic Needs:

All living things have basic needs to survive. The prairie dog's are practically the same as what all living things need. Those things are that they need to consume proper nutrients and good food, just like a lot of things do, including us. They meet those needs by eating the food they like, while getting nutrients from them. Since they don't have really any water in their biome, they then get their nutrients from the water in the plants they consume. Their burrows that they create are also one of their basic needs. Just like anything, it almost always needs some kind shelter. Even the layer of fat that they put on in the winter to help them survive can be a crucial need for them. The biome supports their main basic needs, which is the food, and nutrients they need to consume, and also the land for the burrows (even though they have to make them). The nutrients are in the plants that the biome produces though. So there are some basic needs that the prairie dogs need to survive, just like we need them. (Except the excess fat)

Prairie Dog's Behaviors:

The prairie dog's behaviors are really interesting to talk about since they are so diverse with them. One thing that most animals don't have like the prairie dogs is how they are really social. They are also pretty active in the day. They mostly stick together by living in big colonies or towns, which may have thousands of prairie dogs in it.
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I think that's pretty cool because most animals don't live in groups/towns. They don't live just in a clump of area, they even separate into neighborhoods, then those are even divided into family groups. Which I think is pretty impressive. The family groups, or coteries, consist of one male, one to four females, and then their young. They greet each other in the coolest ways for an animal in my opinion, which is the touching of noses, or turning of the head sideways and touching incisors, (their first four front teeth).
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They also clean each other and help each other out/work together to build their burrows. Prairie dogs are territorial with their family groups, and they will protect them from other prairie dogs. With all this behavioral stuff of theirs going on, they are also very vocal. They have many different calls, almost like a language. Yips, growls, chattering, barks, and chirps are all vocal sounds that the prairie dogs make. Yips and barks indicates danger within the prairie dogs. Once one starts warning, other will join in. They then will do a jump yip when it is again safe. Again, once one hears it, they all join in doing it.

Here is a video of them doing that: http://animal.discovery.com/videos/mutual-of-omahas-wild-kingdom-sounding-the-alarm.html

I bet you can now see how the prairie dogs have some behavioral differences from other animals. They sure are pretty neat.

Prairie Dog's Symbiotic Relationships (With Other Animals):

One relationship that prairie dogs have that is pretty strange in my opinion is with bison. Their relationship is symbiotic, meaning that both sides depend on each other for survival. Bison would come together in towns of prairie dogs for grazing. As the colony's prairie dog population went up, the stronger ones would drive off the weak ones. The weak ones then would disperse to new areas, by following the bison trails. The decrease in population of the bison from the range also then led to a large decrease in the prairie dog population across the West. They then rebounded when cattle took over the bison's role. They also helped each other with getting food. Prairie dogs preferred the broad-leaved weeds that competed with the bison's grasses it ate. So the prairie dogs ate the weeds, and then that led the grass to grow lush and in good amounts, and the bison thrived on them then. The bison compacted the soil, and that then encouraged the growth of forbs, which the prairie dogs liked. As the prairie dogs then ate these plants, the growth of the bison's food, grass, was encouraged by that. That is almost the same with cattle, how prairie dogs serve as fertilizers and they improve the forage, (mainly plant leaves and stems), for cattle, while the cattle grazing allows the prairie dog colonies to expand. So there is some information on the prairie dog's main symbiotic relationships. It sure is pretty neat how they work together, even if you think they wouldn't be.

Wildlife Monitoring Technique:

Currently while on my research trip for prairie dogs I have been using GPS tracking instead of radio telemetry tracking for the reason that the GPS shows the path right on the computer, but the radio telemetry needs some more work with the drawing it out, or typing it into the computer to find the exact location of the animal. With a GPS tracker, after a certain duration it will put a dot on a digital map showing the location of the certain animals. Which it way more convenient. It wasn't easy catching these prairie dogs to put the GPS trackers on them, which I put on their leg, but I got the job done. I also put some trackers on some badgers, which is one of the prairie dog's predators. Now that was really hard because they are pretty vicious. I put the tracker on their leg as well. It has been pretty neat over watching these critters' every moves with the simple ways of the GPS, and I have no regret of not picking radio telemetry over this.

Fellow Researcher Profile: John_Hoogland.jpg
John L. Hoogland
Professor of biology at the University of Maryland
Has a Ph.D. in zoology, got it from the University of Michigan in 1977
Has been studying the ecology and social behavior of prairie dogs for the last 33 years

Studying Locations:
  • Black-tailed prairie dogs at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota for 16 years
  • Gunnison's prairie dogs at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona for 7 years
  • Utah prairie dogs at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah for 10 years
Wrote some books on prairie dogs - The Black-Tailed Prairie Dog & Conservation of the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog
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Now researching white-tailed prairie dogs at The Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado
Has a website http://www.prairiedog101.org/, (101 Questions & Answers about Prairie Dogs)
Prairie Dog Coalition member
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Comparisons to me:
I'm sure me and him have some of the same research, but since he has been studying for 33 years, and I have been maybe a little under a month, I bet he has some stuff I do not. There are actually a lot of questions he answered on his website that I didn't know about prairie dogs. Like I didn't know that there are five types of prairie dogs. Since most, or all of my research has been coming up about black-tailed prairie dogs, I haven't really seen any other types. There are black-tailed prairie dogs, Gunnison's prairie dogs, Mexican prairie dogs, Utah prairie dogs, and white-tailed prairie dogs. That is good for me to know so maybe I can study one of the other types sometime. All-in-all, John has dedicated a lot of his life to prairie dogs, so he was the perfect person to write this article on. I sure hope he keeps on studying them for the people to learn.

Using the Research - Prairie Dog's Limiting Factors:


National Geographic. "Prairie Dog." Prairie Dogs. National Geographic. Web. 17 Jan. 2012. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/prairie-dog.

M., Sam. "Grasslands Biome." Blue Planet Biomes. Blue Planet Biomes, 2000. Web. 19 Jan. 2012. http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/grasslands.htm.

ID1185764105. "What Are Some Adaptations of the Prairie Dogs?" What Are Some Adaptations of the Prairie Dogs. Answers. Web. 3 Feb. 2012. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_are_some_adaptations_of_the_Prairie_dogs.

New Hampshire Public Television. "Black-tailed Prairie Dog- Cynomys Ludovicianus." Black-tailed Prairie Dog- Cynomys Ludovicianus. New Hampshire Public Television, 2012. Web. 23 Feb. 2012. <http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/blacktailedpraire.htm>.

*M.M. "Facts about Prairie Dogs." High Country News. High Country News. Web. 24 Feb. 2012. <http://www.hcn.org/issues/160/5168>.

R-Zu-2-U. "The Sport of the Prairie Dog Shoot." Treasure Ranch Antique Books, Exotic Animal Books, Craft Books and Antique Household Items. R-Zu-2-U. Web. 24 Feb. 2012. <http://www.treasureranch.com/treasure/rzuinfofiles/prairi~1.html>.

San Francisco Zoo. "Black-tailed Prairie Dog." Black-tailed Prairie Dog. San Francisco Zoo. Web. 24 Feb. 2012. <http://www.sfzoo.org/prairiedog>.

Hoogland, John L., and Dianne A. James. "101 Questions & Answers About Prairie Dogs." 101 Questions & Answers About Prairie Dogs. John L. Hoogland and Dianne A. James, 7 Mar. 2006. Web. 24 Feb. 2012. <http://www.prairiedog101.org/>.
One of the Q & A pages was used also

University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. "John L. Hoogland." John L. Hoogland - (Hoogland's Resume). University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Web. 24 Feb. 2012. <http://www.umces.edu/sites/default/files/al/jhoogland_cv.pdf>.

Animal Planet. "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom: Prairie Dogs Sound the Alarm." Animal Planet. Animal Planet, 29 Feb. 2008. Web. 24 Feb. 2012. <http://animal.discovery.com/videos/mutual-of-omahas-wild-kingdom-sounding-the-alarm.html>.

"Endangered Species Act Protection for the Black-tailed Prairie Dog Is Not Warranted." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Home. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2 Dec. 2009. Web. 25 Feb. 2012. <http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/pressrel/09-77.htm>.

Google and Answers.com were used a lot for the process of the creation of the prairie dog food web on 25 Jan. 2012.