Saturday, December 16, 2006

Prairie Dog

It is getting close to the start of winter here, and this little fellow is probably snuggly hibernating in his burrow tonight. Last summer, he came out long enough for me to get this quick picture of him.

The black tip on his tail tells us he is a member of the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog species, that lives in colonies, or "prairie dog towns" throughout the Great Plains of the United States. These little animals are not "dogs" at all, but a variety of ground squirrel. Their towns are a network of tunnels they create underground, with multiple entrances. They emit a high-pitched bark to warn the others when danger approaches. They are extremely shy.

They also can be somewhat dangerous in the wild, as the fleas they get tend to carry bubonic plague. While today's antibiotics mean the plague is no longer the "Black Death" of medieval times, I still wouldn't want to catch it.

There are other controversies about these cute little animals. As their tunnels can be a nuisance, as well as a danger to cattle stepping into the holes they make, some people poison them by the hundreds. This has caused animal rights activists to fight back, working to relocate colonies rather than allow them to be destroyed.

Here in Northern Colorado, you don't have to look far, even in urbanized areas, to find a prairie dog town. In captivity, they have a lifespan of approximately eight years.

No comments: