Black-tailed prairie dogs are usually sexually mature after their second winter and will breeed in March each year. One to 10 pups (average of five) are born about 34 days after conception. The pups are born hairless and blind. They remain in the safety of their burrow for 48-49 days before emerging above ground. Prairie dogs are fully grown by October or November, averaging 1-3 pounds and 14-17 inches long. When late spring arrives, black-tailed prairie dogs may remain in the coterie (family territory) in which they were born. If they cannot replace another member of the coterie who has left or died, the young prairie dog must leave. Young prairie dogs are most vulnerable during this time of disperal. Watch for conflicts between males as the young attempt to join existing family territories or establish new coteries. If they survive their first two years of turmoil, prairie dogs may live five years or even more.
Black-tailed prairie dogs and Mexican prairie dogs do not hibernate as do the three white-tailed species. You should easily spot a few prairie dogs during daylight hours. They may retreat to their burrow seeking relief from the summer's mid-day heat or shelter from a winter storm. Prairie dogs can be seen eating green grasses, broad-leafed, non-woody plants (forbs), and digging for roots and bulbs. Seeds and insects add variety to their diet. They are adept at removing the spines from prickly pear cactus before eating the leaves.
It is typical for black-tailed prairie dogs to dig 15-40 burrow entrances per acre, many more than other species. Each burrow usually has two entrances which lead to a tunnel 4-7 feet deep and perhaps 15-25 feet long. Look for tunnel entrances marked by mounds of excavated soil compacted into a crater or dome shape. Often two feet high, these mounds serve as good lookouts and prevent running water from entering the tunnels. Burrowing aerates and mixes soil types, as well as incorporating organic matter to enhance soil formation.
Black-tailed prairie dogs have been reduced by 80 to 90 percent in various portions of their range. This reduction has had an impact on some species that use prairie dog towns. The most famous of these is the black-footed ferret, which lives only in prairie dog towns and feeds almost exclusively (85 to 90 percent) on prairie dogs. The black-footed ferret is an endangered species, extinct in the wild except for one site in Wyoming. A recovery program is under way to restore this ferret to certain portions of its range. Over 101 vertebrate species inhabitat prairie dog towns, including the burrowing owl, golden eagle, ferruginous hawk, mountain plover and swift fox.
Dissidents for the Environment
Save Prairie Dogs
PO Box 117
Paonia, CO 81428