Prairie Dog


Do you know prairie dogs, herbivores that live in North America?
Prairie dogs are a species of squirrel that lives on the ground, and they are animals that dig large burrows in the ground and live with their friends.
Many people may say, “I’ve seen it!” because they are often kept in zoos and sometimes people keep them as pets.
Let’s take a peek into their lives together to find out what characteristics and secrets prairie dogs have in this article!



~ Basic information. ~



Prairie dogs are a species of rodent that lives in the steppes of central North America.

There are a total of five types of friends, but in this article we will basically talk about the “black-tailed prairie dog”.

The black-tailed prairie dog is characterized by a reddish-brown body color with black only the tip of the tail, which is the origin of the name.

They have a habit of living in groups in burrows made by digging holes in the ground, and live in large groups called “towns” (colonies) in which small family groups called “coteries” are gathered.

Coterie consists of 3~4 females and their cubs for one male prairie dog, and an average of 6 prairie dogs belong to it. Sometimes there are more than 20 very large cotteries.


Prairie dogs are bred once a year, and basically the breeding season occurs in late winter and early spring.

The gestation period is 33~38 days, and the mother of a prairie dog gives birth to 1~8 babies at a time (average 4~5).

Prairie dog babies are born very small, about 7 cm long and 15 g in weight, immature with no hair and no open eyes.After that, hair begins to grow little by little at about 3 weeks after birth, and finally the eyes open about 5 weeks after birth.




Prairie dog’s Q&A.

What is the origin of the prairie dog name?

The origin of the name prairie dog is said to be related to where the prairie dog lives and the barking of the prairie dog.

Prairie dogs are animals that live in “prairies” and chirp with a high-pitched voice like a dog when danger is imminent.

Therefore, it is said that the name “prairie dog” was given because it is a dog-like (barking) animal that lives in the grasslands.


Why do prairie dogs live there?

Prairie dogs live in the steppes of central North America.

However, we did not know for sure why prairie dogs live in this place.

Perhaps one of the reasons is that there are many plants that feed prairie dogs and there is a lot of ground where they can dig burrows.

By the way, the current prairie dog is thought to be an animal derived from the “ground squirrel”, a member of the squirrel family that lives on the same ground as the prairie dog, about 2 to 3 million years ago.

Originally, it seems to have had long ears and tail, just like squirrels living on trees, but as they lived on the ground, their ears and tail degenerated and became smaller.


What do prairie dogs eat?

Prairie dogs are herbivorous animals, and in the wild they feed on grasses and roots that grow in grasslands, seeds, nuts, and insects.

At zoos, they often eat grasses (timothy, Italian ryegrass, etc.), vegetables (cabbage, komatsuna, carrots, etc.), pellets, etc.

Prairie dogs are very dexterous, and when they eat, they grab food with their paws and bring it to their mouths.


Why do prairie dogs stand?

When you think of a prairie dog, many people think of it standing up on its hind legs and looking around.

The reason why prairie dogs stand up is to be wary of natural enemies.

Wild prairie dogs have many natural enemies and are always targeted by animals that try to catch and eat prairie dogs.Therefore, prairie dogs stand up and expand their horizons as much as possible, trying to find natural enemies while they are as far away as possible.

When a pack of prairie dogs eats, one or more prairie dogs always stand up and watch out for the area.

Prairie dogs have a wide field of view and are said to be able to see almost 360 degrees without moving their left and right eyes.


What is the structure of a prairie dog’s burrow?

The inside of the prairie dog’s burrow is divided into many passages and rooms, and each room has its own role as a food storage, children’s room, bedroom, and toilet.

The depth of the burrow is 2-5m, the diameter is about 10~30cm, and the average length is 5~10m, but sometimes it can be as high as 30m, and the temperature and humidity are maintained in the tunnel, and it is cool in summer and warm in winter.

The entrance and exit of the burrow are mound-like with soil piled up, and it is designed so that water does not enter the nest when it rains heavily.

Prairie dogs’ claws are long and hard, allowing them to dig holes without worrying about the hardness of the ground. When a prairie dog digs a hole, it digs the soil with its front paws and kicks the soil with its hind legs to dig more and more holes.

By the way, the holes dug by prairie dogs are also known to be used by other animals such as burrowing owls, snakes, and black-footed ferrets.


Is it true that prairie dogs can bury their mates alive?

It’s true. Prairie dogs are known to become very ferocious when they enter estrus.

Even pet prairie dogs, especially males, become so ferocious that it seems like a lie that they used to be in love with their owners, and they will threaten and attack everything.

When a rival male appears in front of such a male in estrus, they fight fiercely for territory, sometimes burying the rival alive.

Males buried alive may escape through the opposite entrance, but it is not uncommon for them to die as they are.

By the way, when females reach estrus, they become nervous and may stop eating food, although they are not as nervous as males.

Prairie dogs also have a surprisingly terrible side, and have been seen attacking the same rodent squirrel animal “ground squirrel” for the purpose of simply killing it, not for the purpose of eating it.

Since prairie dogs and ground squirrels eat almost the same food, it is thought that this behavior is done to secure more food for themselves and their companions.


What kind of personality does a prairie dog have?

Prairie dogs are basically said to be social and compassionate.

When the prairie dog friends meet, they can be seen communicating by sticking the tips of their noses together and rubbing their cheeks together.

It is said that prairie dogs are easy to get used to humans because of their social nature, and many individuals become very spoiled when they admit that humans are also friends.

Prairie dogs that are fond of humans can touch each other, such as petting and placing them on their lap, and often request to play with them.


Can prairie dogs be kept as pets?

When breeding prairie dogs at home, you need to follow certain rules in some countries. This time, we will introduce whether prairie dogs can be bred at home in Japan.

In fact, in Japan, prairie dogs are animals that can be bred as pets, and they were once popular as pets due to their adorable appearance and were often seen in pet stores.

However, in response to the point that fleas that infest prairie dogs may cause an infectious disease called “plague”, it was decided to ban the import of prairie dogs from 2003 from the viewpoint of preventing infectious diseases.The import ban is still in place. (As of 2021)


Although there is a ban on imports, it is possible to continue to keep prairie dogs (including crossbred offspring) that were kept in Japan until 2003.

Therefore, many of the prairie dogs currently bred in Japan Japan are descendants of individuals bred at that time, but on the other hand, the number of prairie dogs in Japan is gradually decreasing due to the continued import ban.

And with the decrease in the number of individuals, the price has risen, and it continues to be somewhat difficult to obtain it.

By the way, breeding prairie dogs basically does not require special permission. However, in Hokkaido, prairie dogs and ferrets are designated as “Specified imported Animals”, so you must notify the governor when keeping them.

Prairie dogs are also members of the squirrel family, but when breeding them, be sure to feed on grass (timothy, Italian ryegrass, etc.).

Prairie dogs are delighted when given sweet fruits, nuts and plant seeds (such as walnuts and sunflower seeds), but giving them too much can cause obesity.

Keep in mind that prairie dogs, like humans, are more likely to get sick when they become obese, which can shorten their lifespan.


Are there any places in Japan where I can see prairie dogs?

There are a total of five species of prairie dogs, but only the “black-tailed prairie dog” can be found in Japan.

Black-tailed prairie dogs are bred at many zoos such as Ueno Zoo in Tokyo, nihon daira Zoo in Shizuoka Prefecture, and Hirakawa Zoological Park in Kagoshima Prefecture.

By the way, the black-tailed prairie dog is said to be one of the easiest types of prairie dogs to keep because of its large population, social nature, and not hibernation.


What is the lifespan of a prairie dog?

There are various theories about the lifespan of prairie dogs, but it is said that it is about 3~5 years in the wild and 7~10 years in captivity.

In particular, wild prairie dogs have a short lifespan, and it is said that more than half of the babies born die within the first year of life.

This is thought to be one of the reasons not only that there are many natural enemies that eat prairie dogs, but also that there are many cases of cannibalism between prairie dogs.


What enemies do prairie dogs have?

Prairie dogs are often natural enemies, and in the wild they are always targeted by carnivores such as coyotes, bobcats, foxes, pumas, snakes, and birds of prey (hawks and eagles).

But for prairie dogs, the biggest enemy is us humans.

Prairie dogs have a habit of living by digging burrows in the ground, so if there are prairie dogs on ranches or fields, the ground will be full of holes.

In the old United States, prairie dogs were actively exterminated because livestock (cows and horses) could get stuck in a hole dug by prairie dogs and break their leg bones, eat grass, which is food for livestock, and destroy crops and fields.

Poison and guns were used to exterminate prairie dogs, and sometimes they used a vacuum cleaner-like machine to suck up prairie dogs in the nest to catch them alive.

It is believed that there were as many as 5 billion prairie dogs in North America at one time.

However, as a result of large-scale extermination and habitat destruction, a whopping 98% of prairie dogs died. As a result, there were probably 5 billion prairie dogs, but by 1970 they were in danger of extinction.

Later, as various studies related to animals progressed, it was found that prairie dogs were endangered, and as a result of the discovery that there were animals that could not live without prairie dogs, prairie dogs became protected objects.

※Specifically, animals that cannot live without prairie dogs are said to be black-footed ferrets that feed on them as their main food, and burrowing owls that burrow in holes dug by prairie dogs.

As a result of conservation activities, it is said that three species of the black-tailed prairie dog, the white-tailed prairie dog, and the gunnison’s prairie dog are less threatened with extinction.

However, even at present, there are fears that two species, the mexican prairie dog and the utah prairie dog, will become extinct.


In particular, mexican prairie dogs are classified as “endangered” in the category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

It is also classified as “Annex I” in the Washington Convention.It is stipulated that animals listed in Annex I should not be imported or exported in order to make money, neither the animals themselves nor their body parts.



Type of prairie dog.

・Black-Tailed Prairie Dog
・White-Tailed Prairie Dog
・Mexican Prairie Dog
・Gunnison’s Prairie Dog
・Utah Prairie Dog


霍野 晋吉(2005年)『プレーリードッグ・ジリスの医・食・住』どうぶつ出版

霍野晋吉,横須賀 誠(2019年)『カラーアトラスエキゾチックアニマル 哺乳類編 増補改訂版 ─種類・生態・飼育・疾病─』緑書房



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