Prairie dogs are burrowing rodents that live in large, communal colonies in the plains of western and central North America. There are five species of prairie dogs native to North America, but only one, the black tailed prairie dog, is common in Colorado and Wyoming. In this article we will explore some of the characteristics of the prairie dog and discuss control options.
Prairie Dog Biology
Prairie dogs were named by settlers moving across the prairie who thought their chirping sounded like dogs barking. Prairie dogs are communal animals who live in complex colonies made up of networks of tunnels. Each colony has separate “rooms” for sleeping, storing food, birthing young, etc.
Prairie dogs are extremely social and live in closely-knit groups called “coteries.” Coteries contain an adult male, one or more adult females and their young offspring. These coteries are grouped together into wards (or neighborhoods) and several wards make up a colony or “town.”Prairie dogs have a complex communication system that is characterized by pitched warning “barks” that signal different types of predators. They are known for perching upright at the tops of their burrows in a “watchdog” stance, a practice that gives the little creatures the appearance of extra height.
Prairie dogs will mate in March and give birth in April or May. Litters may have as many as 8 pups, but the typical little will have 3-4 each.
Prairie Dog Control
There are several options available for prairie dog control, including trapping, physical barriers, shooting, rodenticide baits, and using fumigants (poison gas). Not all options are available in all areas, and permits must be pulled for any lethal means of control. Please contact the Creature Control office at 1-844-774-3284 or email us here for more information on what control methods are available in your area.
Prairie dogs have a large impact on the local ecosystem because their colonies help sustain over 150 other species, including salamanders and ferrets. Other species, like eagle, coyote and badger, feed on the prairie dog. Their burrows help aerate the soil. They are also known to feed on nuisance insects, which is beneficial to farmers.
Nevertheless, because of their voracious appetites for grass, prairie dogs have been considered a nuisance for farmers and ranchers. Prairie dogs will consume grasses, sedges and flowering plants. Large prairie dog colonies can turn acres of pasture land into waste land very quickly. Prior to the settling of the west, there may have been close to a billion prairie dogs in the Great Plains region. Their numbers have been reduced by 95% since the settling of the west. In some states – such as Arizona – they were completely eradicated.
Because of the greatly reduced numbers of prairie dogs, eradication methods must be balanced with a concern for the overall environment. Creature Control only uses methods of control approved by the State of Colorado and State of Wyoming. For more information on prairie dog control, we recommend this fact sheet put together by the Extension Office of Colorado State University.