Black-tailed prairie dog

Cynomys ludovicianus

The black-tailed prairie dog , is a rodent of the family Sciuridae found in the Great Plains of North America from about the USA-Canada border to the USA-Mexico border. Unlike some other prairie dogs, these animals do not truly hibernate. The black-tailed prairie dog can be seen above ground in midwinter. A black-tailed prairie dog town in Texas was reported to cover 64,000 km² and included 400,000,000 individuals. Prior to habitat destruction, this species was probably the most abundant prairie dog in central North America. This species was one of two described by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the journals and diaries of their expedition.
Black-tailed Prairie Dog Taking it all in, Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) seems relaxed at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, United States. Black-tailed Prairie Dog,Black-tailed prairie dog,Cynomys ludovicianus,Geotagged,North Dakota,Summer,Theodore Roosevelt National Park,United States

Appearance

Black-tailed prairie dogs are generally tan in color, with lighter-colored bellies. Their tails have black tips, from which their name is derived. Adults can weigh from 1.5 to 3 lb , males are typically heavier than females. Body length is normally from 14 to 17 in , with a 3 to 4 in tail.Black-tailed prairie dogs inhabit grasslands, including short- and mixed-grass prairie, sagebrush steppe, and desert grasslands. Shortgrass prairies dominated by buffalo grass , blue grama , and western wheatgrass , and mixed-grass prairies that have been grazed by native and nonnative herbivores are their preferred habitat. Slopes of 2% to 5% and vegetation heights between 3 and 5 inches are optimal for detecting predators and facilitating communication.

In the Great Plains region, black-tailed prairie dog colonies commonly occur near rivers and creeks. Of 86 colonies located in Mellette County, South Dakota, 30 were located on benches or terraces adjacent to a creek or floodplain, 30 occurred in rolling hills with a slope more than 5°, 20 were in flat areas, and six were in badland areas. The slopes of playa lakes in the Texas Panhandle and surrounding regions are used as habitat for the black-tailed prairie dog. Colonies in Phillips County, Montana, were often associated with reservoirs, cattle salting grounds, and other areas affected by humans.

Black-tailed prairie dogs tolerate "high degrees" of disturbance over long periods of time. New colonies are rarely created on rangeland in "good" to "excellent" condition; however, continuously, long-term, heavily grazed land reduces habitat quality due to soil erosion. Black-tailed prairie dogs may colonize heavily grazed sites, but do not necessarily specialize in colonizing overgrazed areas. Overgrazing may occur subsequent to their colonization. Black-tailed prairie dogs were associated with areas intensively grazed by livestock and/or areas where topsoil had been disturbed by human activities in sagebrush-grassland habitat on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and Fort Belknap Agency, Montana. Roads and cattle trails were found in 150 of 154 black-tailed prairie dog colonies, and colonies were located significantly closer to livestock water developments and homestead sites than randomly located points.
The Digger  Black-tailed prairie dog,Cynomys ludovicianus

Distribution

The historic range of the black-tailed prairie dog was from southern Saskatchewan to Chihuahua, Mexico, and included portions of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. As of 2007, black-tailed prairie dogs occur across most of their historic range, excluding Arizona; however, their occupied acreage and populations are well below historic levels.The home range and territorial boundaries of black-tailed prairie dogs are determined by the area occupied by an individual coterie. Coteries typically occupy about 1.0 acre .

Population density and growth are influenced by habitat quality and are restricted by topographic barriers, soil structure, tall vegetation, and social conditions. Urbanization and other types of human development may restrict colony size and spatial distribution. Most plains habitats support at least 13 black-tailed prairie dogs/ha.
The Eater  Black-tailed prairie dog,Cynomys ludovicianus

Status

Black-tailed prairie dogs are frequently exterminated from ranchland, being viewed as pests. Their habitat has been fragmented, and their numbers have been greatly reduced. Additionally, they are remarkably susceptible to plague. In 2006, all eight appearances of plague in black-tailed prairie dog colonies resulted in total colony extinction. Studies in 1961 estimated only 364,000 acres of occupied black-tailed prairie dog habitat in the United States. A second study in 2000 showed 676,000 acres . However, a comprehensive study between 10 states and various tribes in 2004 estimated 1,842,000 acres in the United States, plus an additional 51,589 acres in Mexico and Canada. Based on 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.
Black-tailed prairie dog cynomys LUDOvicianus

These animals bark like dogs. Black-tailed prairie dog,Cynomys ludovicianus,Geotagged,The Netherlands,Zooparc Overloon

Behavior

Black-tailed prairie dogs live in colonies. Colony size may range from five to thousands of individuals, and may be subdivided into two or more wards, based on topographic features, such as hills. Wards are usually subdivided into two or more coteries, which are composed of aggregates of highly territorial, harem-polygynous social groups. Individuals within coteries are amicable with each other and hostile towards outside individuals. At the beginning of the breeding season, a coterie is typically composed of one adult male, three to four adult females, and several yearlings and juveniles of both sexes. After the breeding season and prior to dispersal of juveniles, coterie size increases.Constantine Slobodchikoff and others assert that prairie dogs use a sophisticated system of vocal communication to describe specific predators. According to them, prairie dog calls contain specific information as to what the predator is, how big it is and how fast it is approaching. These have been described as a form of grammar. According to Slobodchikoff, these calls, with their individuality in response to a specific predator, imply prairie dogs have highly developed cognitive abilities. He also asserts prairie dogs have calls for things that are not predators to them. This is cited as evidence that the animals have a very descriptive language and have calls for any potential threat.

There is debate over whether the alarm calling of prairie dogs is selfish or altruistic. Prairie dogs possibly alarm others to the presence of a predator so they can protect themselves. However, the calls possibly are meant to cause confusion and panic in the groups and cause the others to be more conspicuous to the predator than the caller. Studies of black-tailed prairie dogs suggest alarm calling is a form of kin selection, as a prairie dog’s call alerts both offspring and kin of indirect descent, such as cousins, nephews and nieces. Prairie dogs with kin close by called more often than those that did not. In addition, the caller may be trying to make itself more noticeable to the predator. However, a predator seems to have difficulty determining which prairie dog is making the call due to its "ventriloquistic" nature. Also, when a prairie dog makes a call, the others seem to not run into the burrows, but stand on the mounds to see where the predator is, making themselves visible to the predator.

Perhap the most pretentious of prairie dog communication is the territoral call or "jump-yip" display. A prairie dog will stretch the length of its body vertically and throw its forefeet into the air while making a call. A jump-yip from one prairie dog causes others nearby to do the same.
Prairie dog  Black-tailed prairie dog,Cynomys ludovicianus,Geotagged,Groundhog,Marmota monax,United Kingdom

Habitat

Black-tailed prairie dogs are native to grassland habitats in North America. They inhabit shortgrass prairie, mixed-grass prairie, sagebrush steppe, and desert grassland.

Habitat preferences for the black-tailed prairie dog are influenced by vegetative cover type, slope, soil type, and amount of rainfall. Their foraging and burrowing activities influence environmental heterogeneity, hydrology, nutrient cycling, biodiversity, landscape architecture, and plant succession in grassland habitats.Black-tailed prairie dogs inhabit grasslands, including short- and mixed-grass prairie, sagebrush steppe, and desert grasslands. Shortgrass prairies dominated by buffalo grass , blue grama , and western wheatgrass , and mixed-grass prairies that have been grazed by native and nonnative herbivores are their preferred habitat. Slopes of 2% to 5% and vegetation heights between 3 and 5 inches are optimal for detecting predators and facilitating communication.

In the Great Plains region, black-tailed prairie dog colonies commonly occur near rivers and creeks. Of 86 colonies located in Mellette County, South Dakota, 30 were located on benches or terraces adjacent to a creek or floodplain, 30 occurred in rolling hills with a slope more than 5°, 20 were in flat areas, and six were in badland areas. The slopes of playa lakes in the Texas Panhandle and surrounding regions are used as habitat for the black-tailed prairie dog. Colonies in Phillips County, Montana, were often associated with reservoirs, cattle salting grounds, and other areas affected by humans.

Black-tailed prairie dogs tolerate "high degrees" of disturbance over long periods of time. New colonies are rarely created on rangeland in "good" to "excellent" condition; however, continuously, long-term, heavily grazed land reduces habitat quality due to soil erosion. Black-tailed prairie dogs may colonize heavily grazed sites, but do not necessarily specialize in colonizing overgrazed areas. Overgrazing may occur subsequent to their colonization. Black-tailed prairie dogs were associated with areas intensively grazed by livestock and/or areas where topsoil had been disturbed by human activities in sagebrush-grassland habitat on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and Fort Belknap Agency, Montana. Roads and cattle trails were found in 150 of 154 black-tailed prairie dog colonies, and colonies were located significantly closer to livestock water developments and homestead sites than randomly located points.
The Watcher  Black-tailed prairie dog,Cynomys ludovicianus

Reproduction

Age of first reproduction, pregnancy rate, litter size, juvenile growth rate, and first-year survival of the black-tailed prairie dog vary depending on food availability.In Wind Cave National Park, the mean percentage of adult females that weaned a litter each year was 47% ± 14%. Reproductive success and survival may be greater in young colonies that have space for expansion. In a young colony with space for expansion, in Wind Cave National Park, 88% females were pregnant and 81% of young weaned, compared to an old colony with no room for expansion, where 90% of females were pregnant and 41% of young were weaned.
Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Prairie dogs have been vilified by ranchers in the western US, and staunch efforts were made to eradicate entire populations. As a result, they are not as common as they once were; but, many prairie dog colonies have persisted in protected areas. Amazingly, the largest prairie dog town ever discovered covered 64,000 km2 and included 400 million individuals! 

 I spotted this Black-Tailed Prairie Dog in a zoo.

 Although they are often viewed as a pest species (potential agricultural concerns and possibly serving as a reservoir for bubonic plague), prairie dogs have an important role in the ecosystem. One obviously crucial role is the fact that they provide a vital link in food webs since they are primary consumers. For example, Black-footed Ferrets, which are highly endangered mammals, rely on prairie dog colonies for food and shelter. This reliance is intimately tied to the near extinction of Black-footed Ferrets in the wild because of the large scale eradication of prairie dogs.  Black-Tailed Prairie Dog,Black-tailed prairie dog,Cynomys ludovicianus,Geotagged,Prairie Dog,Spring,United States,captive animal,captivity,zoo

Food

Black-tailed prairie dogs are selective opportunists, preferring certain phenological stages or types of vegetation according to their needs. When forage is stressed by grazing, drought, or herbicides, they change their diets quickly. Grasses are preferred over forbs, and may comprise more than 75% of their diets, especially during summer. Western wheatgrass, buffalo grass, blue grama and sedges are preferred during spring and summer. Scarlet globemallow and Russian thistle are preferred during late summer and fall, but are sought out during every season. During winter, plains prickly pear , Russian thistle, and underground roots are preferred. Shrubs such as rabbitbrush , winterfat , saltbush , and sagebrush are also commonly eaten. Water, which is generally not available on the short-grass prairie, is obtained from vegetation such as plains prickly pear. Koford estimated one black-tailed prairie dog eats approximately 7 lbs of herbage per month during summer. Cutworms, grasshoppers, and old or fresh American bison scat are occasionally eaten. For a detailed list of foods eaten by black-tailed prairie dogs by month, and ratings of those foods' forage value to cattle and sheep, see. For a complete list of vegetation preferred by the black-tailed prairie dog, see.
Ground Squirrel Alaska Black-tailed prairie dog,Cynomys ludovicianus

Predators

Major mortality factors include predation, disease, infanticide, habitat loss, poisoning, trapping, and shooting. Survival for the first year was 54% for females and less than 50% for males in Wind Cave National Park. Primary causes of death were predation and infanticide. Infanticide partially or totally eliminated 39% of all litters. Lactating females were the most common killers. Mortality of young was highest due to heavy predation during the winter and early spring following birth. Mortality increases with dispersal from a colony or coterie.

Sylvatic plague, caused by the bacterium ''Yersinia pestis'', can quickly eliminate entire black-tailed prairie dog colonies. Once infected, death occurs within a few days. Black-tailed prairie dogs are also susceptible to diseases transmitted by introduced animals.The most common predators of black-tailed prairie dogs are coyotes , American badgers , bobcats , golden eagles , ferruginous hawks , red-tailed hawks , and prairie rattlesnakes . Although now very rare, black-footed ferrets were once a major predator of the black-tailed prairie dog.Black-tailed prairie dogs have been called "ecosystem engineers" due to their influence on the biotic and abiotic characteristics of their habitat, landscape architecture, and ecosystem structure and function. Research suggests black-tailed prairie dogs are a keystone species in some, but not all, geographic areas. Black-tailed prairie dogs enhance the diversity of vegetation, vertebrates, and invertebrates through their foraging and burrowing activities and by their presence as prey items. Grasslands inhabited by black-tailed prairie dogs support higher biodiversity than grasslands not occupied by them. See Ceballos and others for a simplified diagram of black-tailed prairie dog activities and impacts in grassland ecosystem function and biological diversity.

Hundreds of species of vertebrates and invertebrates are associated with black-tailed prairie dog colonies. Vertebrate species richness on their colonies increases with colony size and density. West of the Missouri River in Montana, 40% of all vertebrate fauna in prairie habitats rely on black-tailed prairie dog colonies for food, nesting, and/or denning. Rare and declining species, such as the black-footed ferret, swift fox , mountain plover , and burrowing owl are associated with colonies. Because their foraging activities keep plant development in a suppressed vegetative state with higher nutritional qualities, herbivores, including red deer , American bison, pronghorn , and domestic cattle often prefer foraging in black-tailed prairie dog colonies. Animals that depend on herbaceous cover in sagebrush habitat, such as mule deer and sage grouse , may be deterred by the decreased vegetative cover on black-tailed prairie dog colonies. For a list of vertebrate species associated with black-tailed prairie dog colonies, see.

Biodiversity in shortgrass prairies may be at risk due to the reductions in distribution and occurrence of black-tailed prairie dog. Threats include fragmentation and loss of habitat, unregulated eradication or control efforts, and sylvatic plague. As a result of habitat fragmentation and prairie dog eradication programs, colonies are now smaller and more fragmented than in presettlement times. Agriculture, livestock use, and other development have reduced habitat to 2% of its former range. Fragmented colonies are more susceptible to extirpation, primarily by sylvatic plague. The effect of roads on black-tailed prairie dogs is debatable. Roads may either facilitate or hinder their movement, depending on the landscape setting. Roads may be easy routes for dispersal, but those with heavy automobile use may increase mortality. Roads, streams, and lakes may serve as barriers to sylvatic plague.

References:

Some text fragments are auto parsed from Wikipedia.

Status: Least concern | Trend: Unknown
EX EW CR EN VU NT LC
Taxonomy
KingdomAnimalia
DivisionChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderRodentia
FamilySciuridae
GenusCynomys
SpeciesC. ludovicianus