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Black-tailed Prairie Dog

Alyce Taylor

Joined December 2008

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A black-tailed prairie dog pauses for a look around before diving back into it’s burrow.

Captured in St. Mary’s Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area in southern Alberta, Canada.

Taken with a Canon Rebel XSi using a 55-200mm lens @ 200mm, f/9.0, 1/400 sec., ISO 200.

Black- tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are a fairly common sight on the Great Plains of North America, but not long ago they were actually a threatened species.

Due to the fact that they are often seen as pests, prairie dogs are often exterminated or otherwise removed from agricultural properties. The reason for this is because they are capable of damaging crops, as they clear the immediate area around their burrows of most vegetation. Also, ranchers have long worried about the potential harm to livestock should they step in a prairie dog burrow, somthing which, according to writer Fred Durso, Jr. of E Magazine, “after years of asking ranchers this question, we have found not one example.”.

Despite these beliefs, these animals serve a vital purpose in the prairie ecosystem. This rodent is actually considered to be a keystone species. They are an important prey species, being the primary diet in prairie species such as the Black-footed Ferret, Swift Fox, Golden Eagle, American Badger, and Ferruginous Hawk. Other species, such as the Mountain Plover and the Burrowing Owl, also rely on prairie dog burrows for nesting areas. Even grazing species such as Plains Bison, Pronghorn, and Mule deer have shown a proclivity for grazing on the same land used by prairie dogs.

In addition to being a vital food source, Prairie dog create extensive tunnel systems which help channel rainwater into the water table to prevent runoff and erosion, and can also serve to change the composition of the soil in a region by reversing soil compaction that can be a result of cattle grazing. In fact, studies have found that, by their actions they actually reduce brush and actually increase the areas of grazable land for cattle, thus potentially being more of a benefit than a pest to the ranchers that have tried so hard in the past to remove them.
Due to conservation these animals have seen their habitats increase threefold between 1961 and 2000, and then threefold again by 2004.

Due to the 2004 studies, the US Fish and Wildlife Service removed the black-tailed prairie dog from the Endangered Species Act Candidate Species List in August 2004. They now thankfully, have a conservation status of Least Concern.
Hopefully these animals continue to be a conservation success story.

Artwork Comments

  • Barb Miller
  • Alyce Taylor
  • tcat757
  • Ray Clarke
  • Barbara Applegate
  • Alyce Taylor
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