Prairie dog

Prairie dog
Temporal range: Late Pliocene-Holocene[a]
Black-Tailed Prairie Dog.jpg
Black-tailed prairie dog at the Smithsonian National Zoo Park in Washington, DC
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae
Tribe: Marmotini
Genus: Cynomys
Rafinesque, 1817
Type species
Cynomys socialis[2]

Cynomys gunnisoni
Cynomys leucurus
Cynomys ludovicianus
Cynomys mexicanus
Cynomys parvidens

Prairie dogs (genus Cynomys) are herbivorous burrowing ground squirrels native to the grasslands of North America. Within the genus are five species: black-tailed, white-tailed, Gunnison's, Utah, and Mexican prairie dogs.[3] In Mexico, prairie dogs are found primarily in the northern states, which lie at the southern end of the Great Plains: northeastern Sonora, north and northeastern Chihuahua, northern Coahuila, northern Nuevo León, and northern Tamaulipas. In the United States, they range primarily to the west of the Mississippi River, though they have also been introduced in a few eastern locales. They are also found in the Canadian Prairies. Despite the name, they are not actually canines; prairie dogs, along with the marmots, chipmunks, and several other basal genera belong to the ground squirrels (tribe Marmotini), part of the larger squirrel family (Sciuridae).

Prairie dogs are considered a keystone species, with their mounds often being used by other species. Their mound-building encourages grass development and renewal of topsoil, with rich mineral, and nutrient renewal in the soil, which can be crucial for soil quality and agriculture. They are extremely important in the food chain, being important to the diet of many animals such as the black-footed ferret, swift fox, golden eagle, red tailed hawk, American badger, and coyote. Other species, such as the golden-mantled ground squirrel, mountain plover, and the burrowing owl, also rely on prairie dog burrows for nesting areas. Grazing species, such as plains bison, pronghorn, and mule deer, have shown a proclivity for grazing on the same land used by prairie dogs. Prairie dogs have some of the most complex systems of communication and social structures in the animal kingdom.[4]

The prairie dog habitat has been affected by direct removal by farmers, and the more obvious encroachment of urban development, which has greatly reduced their populations. The removal of prairie dogs "causes undesirable spread of brush", the costs of which to livestock range and soil quality often outweighs the benefits of removal. Other threats include disease. The prairie dog is protected in many areas to maintain local populations and ensure natural ecosystems.

  1. ^ Goodwin, Thomas H. (23 February 1995). "Pliocene-Pleistocene Biogeographic History of Prairie Dogs, Genus Cynomys (Sciuridae)". Journal of Mammalogy. 76 (1): 100–122. doi:10.2307/1382319. JSTOR 1382319 – via Oxford Academic.
  2. ^ Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M., eds. (2005). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  3. ^ "Basic Facts About Prairie Dogs". Defenders of Wildlife. 15 March 2012. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  4. ^ Fitzgerald, James P.; Lechleitner, Robert R. (1974). "Observations on the Biology of Gunnison's Prairie Dog in Central Colorado". The American Midland Naturalist. 92 (1): 146–163. doi:10.2307/2424208. JSTOR 2424208 – via JSTOR.

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