Black-tailed Prairie Dog
Scientific Name: Cynomys ludovicianus
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2011
Last COSEWIC Designation: Threatened
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern
Image of Black-tailed Prairie Dog
The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is a large burrow-dwelling squirrel that is yellowish in overall colour with brown or reddish-brown upper parts and whitish under parts. Its tail is relatively long and has a distinctive black tip. The Black-tailed Prairie Dog weighs between 1.0 and 1.5 kilograms and is slightly smaller than a house cat (about 40 cm long). A distinctive feature of the prairie dog is its territorial "jump-yip" display, in which the animal stretches its body vertically and throws its forefeet high into the air as it makes a bark-like call.
Distribution and Population
Black-tailed Prairie Dogs occur in the arid grasslands (both short- and mixed-grass prairies) of the Great Plains of North America, from northern Chihuahua and Sonora, Mexico to southern Saskatchewan. In Canada, they only occur in and near the Frenchman River Valley in the very southern portion of Saskatchewan. There are no data that directly describe population size or trends for this species in Canada, but there are estimates of the area of grassland affected (or disturbed) by Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (i.e. the total area of Black-tailed Prairie Dog colonies in Canada). In 1995/1996, it was estimated that the 22 known prairie dog colonies in Saskatchewan occupied 931.7 hectares. This represents a 36% increase in total grassland area affected by the species since 1985, when 14 known colonies occupied an estimated 686.5 hectares. More recently, species density counts have been carried out. The 1997 counts yielded an average density of 3.6 adults and 12.6 juveniles per hectare.
Black-tailed Prairie Dogs inhabit broad, flat river valleys and upland grasslands. Here they establish large colonies, digging extensive burrows in the deep colluvial (rocky material at the base of a slope) or alluvial soil (fine soil deposited by water) and building large mounds. The vegetation in and around the colonies is often dominated by sage (Artemesia) and wheat grass (Agropyron). The shorter vegetation of these areas helps the species to more easily detect predators.
Black-tailed Prairie Dogs live in colonies in river valleys and grasslands. They are mainly herbivourous, grazing on vegetation such as buffalo grass (Bromus) and thistle (Circium), but sometimes eat insects including grasshoppers and beetles. There is actually very little information on the biology and ecology of Canadian Black-tailed Prairie Dogs. In more southern areas, prairie dogs mate underground in the spring, reproduce once a year, and have, on average, 3 pups per litter. The young usually leave their burrows at about 41 days of age. Gestation last approximately 35 days, and young prairie dogs usually first reproduce during their second spring, when they are about 21 months old. The maximum life span for male prairie dogs is 5 years and females can live up to 8 years. Prairie dogs are thought to be the most sociable of the squirrels; living in harem-polygonous family groups within their colonies and displaying complex social patterns. The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is not generally considered to be a hibernating species, but the northern population may hibernate in order to survive harsh winter conditions.
Canadian Black-tailed Prairie Dogs are particularly sensitive to human activities and natural events because of their restricted distribution at the northern edge of the species' range, and their apparent geographical isolation. Their social and colonial nature makes them very susceptible to disease. In addition, Black-tailed Prairie Dog seasonal activities and survival are likely constrained by climate. Grazing and disturbance of grasslands by the species places it in conflict with cattle production. Finally, pest control and social tolerance by humans are also concerns for the species.
Federal ProtectionThe 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.
Black-tailed Prairie Dog colonies occur within Grasslands National Park, where they are protected by the Canada National Parks Act. The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is also protected by the Saskatchewan Wildlife Act. Under this Act, it is prohibited to kill, harm, or harass this species.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
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
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.
8 record(s) found.
- COSEWIC Status Reports (2 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Assessments (1 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (1 record(s) found.)
- Action Plans (1 record(s) found.)
- Management Plans (1 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (1 record(s) found.)
- Consultation Documents (1 record(s) found.)
COSEWIC Status Reports
COSEWIC Annual Reports
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