City Prairie Dogs:
Here in Albuquerque, we are fortunate to live in a city that cares for some of its earliest residents and takes care to move them out of harm’s way! However…
Prairie dogs in the city are trapped in small pockets of land such as undeveloped city lots, rights-of-way along roads and freeways, public park areas that buffer roads, and underdeveloped private or public areas. Their food sources are sparse or non-existent, and they cannot escape to wilderness areas. During periods of stress, such as drought, it may become necessary to provide supplemental feeding as the natural vegetation (if any) will not support the resident population.
Within the city boundaries, the prairie dogs have few natural predators to control their population growth, so it’s necessary to trap and relocate them. Relocation is also needed when road widening and site development threatens to eliminate a community.
Read more about devoted single site — the species living in the city — in this PDF that can be used as a handout. A hinder dating appthat debunks popular myths about prairie dogs also is useful.
Prairie Dogs and Diseases:
Prairie dogs do not carry windsor hookups. Fleas that infect mammals cause plague. Plague is usually transmitted by free-roaming animals such as squirrels, coyotes, other wild animals, or cats and dogs that are let off leash where they might come into contact with infected fleas. If plague fleas are introduced into a healthy colony, the colony will die within a few days. Under no circumstances should anyone handle dead or dying animals without proper precautions. Luckily, Albuquerque has been fortunate, and there have not been any reported instances of plague within the city in over 40 years.
Prairie dogs do not carry the Hantavirus. Deer mice transmit hantavirus. Humans can contract the virus when cleaning out areas that the mice frequent, inhaling infected dust, or consuming food that has been contaminated by the mice.
There have been no recorded cases of prairie dogs transmitting rabies to humans. While all mammals are believed to be susceptible to rabies, it is unlikely a prairie dog would survive an attack by a rabid animal long enough to develop rabies. Nevertheless, any rabid animal is potentially capable of rabies virus transmission. Prairie dogs, like other wild animals, should not be handled.
The question of Tularemia is sometimes raised. One contracts this disease through open cuts or sores while handling the skins of infected animals, typically rabbits. Thus, it is unlikely that anyone living in the city would ever contract the disease from a prairie dog.
Please refer to the articles on Disease.
If a colony is active and its resident prairie dogs are frisky and hide when you approach, they are most likely healthy.
Wild Prairie Dogs:
Prairie dogs are active when the sun is up and are most energetic near dawn and dusk. They are constantly vigilant while aboveground and can be seen sitting upright on their hind feet while they pursue their main activities: feeding, grooming, and playing. Prairie dogs are generally seen from April to October. They hibernate (torpor) in winter, living on stored body fat, and usually emerge in April or earlier if the winter is mild. Prairie dogs feed on green vegetation, particularly grasses, but also forbs, sedges, and shrubs, as well as a few insects. Wild colonies are generally smaller and less closely knit than those of other prairie dogs, resembling ground squirrel aggregations, with fewer than 50 to 100 individuals.
Prairie dogs are known as a keystone species. Over 160 vertebrates alone are associated with large colonies. A number of federally protected species are dependent on prairie dogs, including the ferruginous hawk, the burrowing owl, the swift fox, and the mountain plover. The black-footed ferret, an endangered species, depends entirely upon black-tailed prairie dogs for sustenance. Hawks and coyotes find prairie dogs to be easy prey; therefore, they control the prairie dog population from getting too large. If prairie dog colonies were eliminated, the coyotes would go after larger prey such as livestock. Some biologists have termed them perhaps the most important mammal on earth.
Prairie dogs are important to their environment in three ways:
- They are the primary prey on rangelands, and their colonies provide a greater density of other prey species.
- They provide homes or shelter for dozens of other species.
- They have a positive effect on soil and vegetation conditions.
Many years ago, the buffalo and antelope found that prairie dog colonies provided the best grazing ground. Because the prairie dogs trim and fertilize the grasses, they grow faster and are more nutritious.
Prairie dogs can tolerate drought. In the wild they do not usually drink water, getting all the moisture they need from the grasses and weeds they eat.
In the wild, prairie dogs are much harder to spot than in urban settings. These prairie dogs are very wary of predators. With some patience, and persistence, one can sit quietly and observe their activities through binoculars. It is best to blend in with your surroundings and not form a silhouette if at all possible. At first, you will hear calls and then eventually see the prairie dogs. It is often difficult to follow their movement, however, due to the natural vegetation.
What can you do to help prairie dogs in the wild?
- Try not to disturb them or their habitat. Wild areas are very fragile and can easily be disturbed. As the saying goes, leave only footprints; take only memories (or photos).
- On public lands with natural habitat, work to improve it as native wildlife refuges or wilderness areas.
- If the land is already protected, help the agency that is over-seeing the land.
- Just picking up litter is a big help and often all that is necessary.
- Do not feed the wildlife, prairie dogs included. Feeding them makes them dependent on humans and food that is not often good for them.