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Black-Tailed Prairie Dog

Cynomys ludovicianus

Henry Vilas Zoo Black Tailed Prairie Dog

Named for their dog-like yip, black-tailed prairie dogs are actually large, ground-dwelling squirrels. They have short ears, large black eyes, tan fur, and a distinct tail lightly covered with black hair.

Habitat: This species is natively found on the Great Plains east of the Rocky Mountains, from Canada to Mexico. They traditionally live in dry, flat grasslands and build large underground colonies, referred to as towns.

Diet: Their diet consists mostly of grasses and leafy vegetation, but they will occasionally eat grasshoppers, cutworms, bugs, and beetles. Prairie dogs do not need to drink water – they get all of their moisture content from their plant-based diet.

Family Life: Black-tailed prairie dogs are highly social animals and the number of prairie dogs per town is typically around 12 individuals per 2.5 acres. Families typically consist of one male, one to four females, and their young of up to two years of age.

Henry Vilas Zoo Black Tailed Prairie Dog

The black-tailed prairie dog’s endangered status is in the least concern category.

Henry Vilas Zoo Least Concern Graphic
Henry Vilas Zoo Black Tailed Prairie Dog
  • Although the prairie dog is an important part of the grassland ecosystem, agriculture and urbanization are two major threats responsible for the drastic loss and fragmentation of their habitat.
  • The species is also struggling against a disease called the sylvatic plague. This illness is caused by a transmitted bacterium in fleas and can lead to the death of over 99 percent of prairie dogs in a colony. Despite this deadly disease, the population remains high and they can be found in areas where hunting is prohibited.
Henry Vilas Zoo Black Tailed Prairie Dog
Fun Facts
  • Prairie dogs breed once per year and their litter sizes range from two to eight pups.
  • Throughout their “towns”, prairie dogs cut down anything growing taller than 6 inches, which allows them to see predators.
  • Unlike many other species of prairie dogs, the black-tailed species does not hibernate.
Henry Vilas Zoo Black Tailed Prairie Dog
Quick Facts

CLASS: Mammalia (mammals)
ORDER: Rodentia (rodents)
FAMILY: Sciuridae (squirrel)
GENUS: Cynomys (prairie dog)
SPECIES: Cynomys ludovicianus (black-tailed prairie dog)
LIFE SPAN: Male: 5 years (wild) / female: 8 years (wild) / 8+ years (zoo)
SIZE: Male: 1.1 – 1.4 feet (35.8 – 42.9 cm) / female: 1.1 – 1.3 feet (34 – 40 cm)
WEIGHT: Male: 1.2 – 3.2 pounds (0.5 – 1.4 kg) / female: 1.6 – 2.2 pounds (0.7 – 0.9 kg)

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