Badlands National Park – Prairie Dogs

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On the Sage Creek Rim Road, a fun area to see is Robert’s Prairie Dog Town, where a colony of prairie dogs live in a complex underground “town” of entrances, tunnels, sleeping chambers, storage areas, and back door escapes.

The largest ever recorded prairie dog town located in Texas encompassed a 100 mile by 250 mile area and contained an estimated 400 million prairie dogs.  That’s 25,000 square miles – an area greater than the state of West Virginia. 😲

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Just a small view of Robert’s Prairie Dog Town

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Prairie dogs are members of the squirrel family and are only found in North America.

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Prairie Dogs

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The prairie dog species found in the Badlands is the black-tailed prairie dog, the most common prairie dog of the five species.

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Prairie Dog Pups

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Prairie dogs were once a major part of the American landscape, originally ranging from Canada to Mexico.  Before 1800, it was estimated over 5 billion prairie dogs roamed the American plains.  Today, it’s estimated there’s a healthy return of 10-20 million prairie dogs roaming.  What happened?

In the 1800s, homesteading settlers viewed prairie dogs as disease carriers and grazing area destroyers for their cattle.  We now know these assumptions to be untrue.  Regarded as vermin, settlers killed prairie dogs in large quantities with poison and by recreational shooting.  How sad.

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Prairie dog on the look-out
(“Now where did those kids go?”)

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Prairie dogs are about 14-17 inches long and weigh 1-3 pounds.  They eat most all species of plants with an occasional insect.

Prairie dogs serve as a keystone species so their survival is important to many other species of wildlife.  That includes them being a major prey for a large array of predators that include golden eagles, hawks, fox, coyotes, badgers, and the endangered black-footed ferrets.

Fortunately, prairie dogs can run up to 35 mph at short distances to one of their many entrances for a hopeful escape.

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Prairie Dog nibbling grasses

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In addition, prairie dogs communicate to each other what predator is the threat!

Scientists believe that prairie dogs have one of the most complex animal languages ever decoded.  The prairie dog’s “bark” is a simple squeak or yip, but it means much more to a prairie dog’s ear.

On a basic level, prairie dogs can signal different threats.  For example, they can communicate the difference between a coyote and a domestic dog.  In fact, scientists think that prairie dogs may have developed such complex language from a need to respond to a diverse array of predators, all with different hunting strategies.

In addition to identifying specific threats, prairie dogs can further communicate size, shape, color, and speed.  A prairie dog can say so much more than, “A human is approaching!”  They can get as specific as, “A tall human in a blue shirt is approaching rapidly!”

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Prairie Dogs

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And for sure, they are so darn adorably cute too!

More wildlife to come from Badlands National Park……the fast pronghorn!

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52 thoughts on “Badlands National Park – Prairie Dogs

  1. Oh yes, these little guys are just so cute, especially the pups 😍 and how fascinating to learn how they communicate! It would be so much fun watching them pop up all over place!

    • Thank you, Sue! When they feel threatened, you should see them all run to the holes. Wait a bit, then little heads do pop up every where! It was very entertaining to watch them go about their business.

  2. I love your pictures and your description and information on prairie dogs. Thanks so much for sharing and bringing back memories of past trips to prairie land.

  3. How tragic that so many prairie dog had to die out of ignorance. Great pictures, Donna. Excellent info! 🙂

  4. They are among my favorite animals, Donna. Your photos are lovely. Sadly, the killing continues. People keep building in areas inhabited by prairie dogs and it makes me sick to think of all the poison that continues to be distributed to get rid of them.

  5. Love these little guys and you captured them well. I came across something, somewhere (???) that said that the prairie dogs relied on the bison to create their habitat. Wish my memory was better on details, but I found that interesting.

    • Prairie dogs prefer using heavily grazed areas for habitat. Whereas bison graze and leave behind that ideal habitat. So when they live in the same area, they do work together. Bison like to hang around prairie dog towns to graze the taller grasses around the town’s edge as if they’re keeping it tidy, and for some reason, bison enjoy resting and laying down within a town. Best buds I guess! 😁

  6. I learned so much in this post! So many fascinating facts, and sad stats, too. Western expansion left a lot of plants and animals in rough shape, I’d say. I’ve always thought PDs were very cute and your photos have captured that well. ❤

  7. Thank you, Eliza! Prairie dogs are pretty darn cute, I could sit and watch/listen to their above ground activity for hours. The little pups running all around were funny to watch, it look like there were Mommas watching them as they played. 😊

  8. What a fascinating post, Donna. I enjoyed your photos very much and your rundown of the history and quite amazing communication skills of the prairie dog. A different take on the Badlands. (A favorite park.)

  9. Thanks Donna for sharing this interesting little creature we never see here. It looks like these little guys communicate with a complex language similar to that of birds, which recent research is unraveling, where simple noises contain stacks of information, and we thought humans were clever 🙂

    • Happy to introduce these little guys to you, Ashley! Us humans clever, lol, I had to laugh. Wildlife have and continue to teach us humans so much, isn’t that wonderful! 🙂

  10. Pingback: Badlands National Park – Bighorn Sheep | Photos by Donna

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