Species Profile

Black-tailed Prairie Dog

Scientific Name: Cynomys ludovicianus
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: Saskatchewan
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2011
Last COSEWIC Designation: Threatened
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern


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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Black-tailed Prairie Dog

Black-tailed Prairie Dog Photo 1
Black-tailed Prairie Dog Photo 2

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Description

The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is a diurnal, burrow-dwelling squirrel that lives in colonies. Individuals are 35-42 cm in body length, have short legs, tails with a black tip, small ears and brown to reddish-brown fur with an off-white underbelly. Prairie dogs are an important component of native short and mixed-grass prairie ecosystems and provide breeding habitat for two endangered species, the Mountain Plover and Burrowing Owl, as well as being an important prey for several rare and endangered species such as the reintroduced Black-footed Ferret. The Canadian population of the Black-tailed Prairie Dog is considered a distinct local population because it is at the northernmost point of the species’ range and is isolated from populations in the United States. (Updated 2017/07/21)

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Distribution and Population

The Black-tailed Prairie Dog occurs in the short- and mixed-grass prairies of North America from northern Mexico to Saskatchewan, Canada. The species is extirpated from east Texas north to eastern North Dakota, and where it remains the actual area occupied is small and colonies are mainly small and isolated. In Canada, the population is located in the lower Frenchman River valley and adjacent areas in southwestern Saskatchewan. The Canadian population exists as 18 colonies in close proximity (12km² ); interchange between colonies is likely and the population is considered a single designatable unit. A second population, near Edmonton, Alberta, derived from escaped captives, is not discussed, as per COSEWIC guidelines. (Updated 2017/07/21)

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Habitat

The Black-tailed Prairie Dog lives in grasslands with soils that support extensive burrow systems. The spatial extent of prairie dog colonies tends to be stable in the absence of sylvatic plague outbreaks, and can occupy the same area for many years. Colonies are characterized by short vegetation and numerous mounds of soil (often 30-60 cm high) heaped around each burrow entrance. (Updated 2017/07/21)

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Biology

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs are herbivorous, predominantly eating grasses. They live in family groups (coteries) composed of one male and 2-4 females, often with 1-2 yearlings also present. Coteries are aggregated into colonies. Animals older than 2 years mate in March-April, with 2-6 young born in May. Maximum recorded age is 5yr (males) and 8yr (females). Most dispersal is by yearling males. Canadian Black-tailed Prairie Dogs hibernate for 4 months over winter. (Updated 2017/07/21)

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Threats

The Canadian population exists as a single location because two threats, epizootic sylvatic plague and drought may impact the entire population in a short period. In 2010, a single Black-tailed Prairie Dog in Canada was found dead from sylvatic plague and plague was suspected in the loss of a small (4 ha) colony more than 10 km away. In 2011, pups were recorded where the plague had been found, suggesting the plague was not an epizootic event because numerous neighbouring colonies were not extirpated. Drought limits food production and likely explains fluctuating population levels. Drought is a natural event but frequency of drought is predicted to increase. The recent (2009) reintroduction of Black-footed Ferrets has exposed prairie dogs to a predator they have not experienced in 70 years, and the resilience of the Canadian population to both sylvatic plague and ferret predation is unclear. The impact of Black-footed Ferrets on Black-tailed Prairie Dogs is being monitored but no results were available during the writing of this report. Most other threats are minor, mainly because activities within the protected regulation zone containing the colonies are restricted. An expansion of the population beyond the current zone would be required for the species to recover to the point of not being listed by COSEWIC, but numerous threats outside the zone suggest expansion is unlikely. (Updated 2017/07/21)

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Team

Black-footed Ferret / Black-tailed Prairie Dog Recovery Team

  • Joanne Tuckwell - Chair/Contact - Parks Canada
    Phone: 204-984-2416  Fax: 204-983-0031  Send Email

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

10 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Black-tailed Prairie Dog Cynomys ludovicianus in Canada (2012)

    The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is a diurnal, burrow-dwelling squirrel that lives in colonies. Individuals are 35-42 cm in body length, have short legs, tails with a black tip, small ears and brown to reddish-brown fur with an off-white underbelly. Prairie dogs are an important component of native short and mixed-grass prairie ecosystems and provide breeding habitat for two endangered species, the Mountain Plover and Burrowing Owl, as well as being an important prey for several rare and endangered species such as the reintroduced Black-footed Ferret. The Canadian population of the Black-tailed Prairie Dog is considered a distinct local population because it is at the northernmost point of the species’ range and is isolated from populations in the United States.
  • COSEWIC Update Status Report on the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) in Canada (2000)

    Prairie dogs occur in a small area of Canada, at the northern edge of the species’ range, and are geographically isolated beyond the typical dispersal distance of southern conspecifics. Therefore, the northernmost (Canadian) population of prairie dogs remains particularly sensitive to human activities and natural events.

COSEWIC Assessments

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Black-tailed Prairie Dog (2013)

    This small mammal is restricted to a relatively small population in southern Saskatchewan.  The change in status from Special Concern to Threatened is based mainly on the threat of increased drought, and sylvatic plague, both of which would be expected to cause significant population declines if they occur frequently.  Drought events are predicted to increase in frequency due to a changing climate.  Sylvatic plague was first recorded in 2010.  Although the Canadian population is in a protected area, it exists within a small area, and is isolated from other populations, all of which are located in the United States.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada (2016)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Grasslands National Park of Canada (GNP). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at GNP.

Management Plans

  • Management Plan for the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) in Canada (2009)

    The goal of this management plan is to prevent the Canadian prairie dog from becoming threatened or endangered by ensuring the population maintains at least 90 percent probability of persistence in 100 years. Within Grasslands National Park (Parks Canada Agency) the populations will be allowed to fluctuate in response to natural processes such as drought or predation. Regular monitoring will detect population changes so that appropriate actions can be taken in the event of dramatic declines that threaten the viability of the Canadian prairie dog population or if the prairie dog colonies' expansion negatively impacts other species at risk.

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2017)

    His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of the assessments done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) with respect to the species set out in the annexed schedule.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (2017)

    Biodiversity is rapidly declining worldwide as species become extinct. Today’s extinction rate is estimated to be between 1 000 and 10 000 times higher than the natural rate. Biodiversity is positively related to ecosystem productivity, health and resiliency (i.e. the ability of an ecosystem to respond to changes or disturbances). Given the interdependency of species, a loss of biodiversity can lead to decreases in ecosystem function and services (e.g. natural processes such as pest control, pollination, coastal wave attenuation, temperature regulation and carbon fixing). These services are important to the health of Canadians, and also have important ties to Canada’s economy. Small changes within an ecosystem resulting in the loss of individuals and species can therefore result in adverse, irreversible and broad-ranging effects.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2011-2012 (2012)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (September 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012) from November 21 to 25, 2011 and from April 29 to May 4, 2012. On February 3, 2012, an Emergency Assessment Subcommittee of COSEWIC also assessed the status of the Tri-colored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus), the Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus), and the Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis). During the current reporting period COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 67 wildlife species. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2011-2012 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 1 Extirpated: 4 Endangered: 29 Threatened: 10 Special Concern: 15 Data Deficient: 2 Not at Risk: 6 Total: 67 Of the 67 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 49 species that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 26 of those species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment (see Table 1a).

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species – December 2012 (2013)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 4, 2013, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultations and by October 4, 2013, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations. Consultation paths.