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Black-tailed prairie dog

Scientific name: Cynomys ludovicianus

CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Rodentia
FAMILY: Sciuridae

STATISTICS: Body Length: 11-13 in.; Tail length: 1-5 in.;  Weight: 1.5-3 lbs

The black-tailed prairie dog is the most commonly known of the five species of prairie dog. It is a stout, short-legged animal with long digging claws. Its large eyes are positioned towards the upper side of its head, as is characteristic of all prairie dogs. It has yellow-tan fur, and its short tail is tipped with a black color, resulting in its name.

The Great Plains from Montana and southern Saskatchewan to extreme northern Mexico

Inhabits open plains and plateaus.

Black-tailed prairie dogs are best known for their intricate colonies. They excavate elaborate burrows for shelter and protection from predators. These tunnels can range from four to six inches in width, 13 to 110 ft in length, and 3 to 16 ft in depth. The tunnels all interconnect with grass-lined nest chambers. Earth removed from the tunnel is placed in a cone shape around the surface of the hole, which keeps water from running down into the burrow. Prairie dogs spend a lot of time maintaining this cone, especially following rains, and use their heads to pound the dirt back in place around the hole.

Black-tailed prairie dogs reach sexual maturity at two years of age. One male breeds with multiple females, but sometimes multiple males will be present in a coterie, a social unit of eight to ten individuals. Each adult female produces four to five young after a 34-37 day gestation period. Pregnant and lactating females nest in isolation and are hostile to the rest of the unit. Moreover, females seek to kill and devour the young of other mothers. "Pups" appear above ground at five or six weeks, and are weaned at six or seven weeks. Even with an average of only eight individuals in each coterie, including one single adult male, inbreeding does not seem to occur, mainly because the adult males leave their coterie at two years of age.

Prey to birds of prey, coyotes, fox, and black-footed ferrets
Predator to none

Herbs and grasses

Currently listed as Least Concern with IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Numbers increased dramatically in the late nineteenth century, as the westward expansion of people eliminated predators. Soon the positive outlook turned, as prairie dogs were considered economic menaces because of their extensive feeding on crops and pasture. They became subject to intensive public and private poisoning programs in the US, and numbers were greatly decreased. An estimated drop in numbers was from 800 million in 1905 to two million today. Up to 98 percent of their habitat has been destroyed, and in 2000, black-tailed prairie dogs were listed as threatened.


  • Prairie dogs show a high degree of social organization. Their colonies, commonly called “towns,” can span about half a mile. Towns are additionally divided into "wards," the boundaries of which are determined by topographic and vegetative features. Each ward consists of several "coteries." The bonds of social units are reinforced by such friendly activities as kissing, nuzzling, grooming, playing together, and vocal communication. As young males reach sexual maturity, they move out and establish new territories at the edges of a colony.
  • There are as many as twelve distinct vocalizations for C.ludovicianus. The most predominant of these displays is the "jump yip," which combines a specialized leap with a vocalization. It seems to be used primarily for territorial defense.
  • Its feeding style maintains a kind of "rotating pasture,” which eventually causes fast-growing plants to predominate in the area of colonies. Biting off tall plants in the vicinity of the burrows helps keep a clear field for spotting predators


  1. 1. Nowak, Ronald M. Walker’s Mammals of the World. 5th ed. Vol. 1. John Hopkins University Press. 1991. Pg 573-576.
  2. Krapp, Franz. “Other Ground and Tree Squirrels.” Grzimek’s Encyclopedia of Mammals. Vol. 3. McGraw Hill Publishing. 1990. Pg 53-57.
  3. Linzey, A.V., Reichel, J.D., Hammerson, G., Cannings, S. & Wallace, R. 2008.Cynomys ludovicianus. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.1. Downloaded on 14 June 2010.

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