Prairie dogs, they’re just so gosh darn cute! Their name is both deceiving and informational; they do live on the prairie, but they aren’t dogs. Not surprisingly these little fur balls are in the rodent family, I mean they do kind of look like super round squirrels.
Being born and raised in South Dakota I have seen many a prairie dog in my day, and they are super fun to watch. They are burrowing animals that dig long and extensive tunnels that house passageways, nurseries, sleeping quarters, and even designated bathroom areas. The entrances are marked with special dirt mounds, and you can watch them pop up their cute little heads and then disappear into the earth again.
Prairie dogs are social animals and live in closely-knit family groups that are called “coteries”. Coteries will generally include one male, several females and their off spring. Members of the same coterie will form a special bond and often greet one another with a sweet little nose to nose nuzzle, which is often referred to as the prairie dog kiss. The coteries are then grouped into little neighborhoods which make up a colony or a town; it’s totally an underground city!
These cities offer the prairie dog protection from predators. They have a natural security system that involves using different pitched warning barks that signal different types of predators. This is how they became known as dogs; when the settlers were traveling across the plains these warning calls sounded something like a barking dog.
Sadly for the prairie dog, they are not often welcomed in their homeland due to farming. They are often considered destructive pests as their unique landscaping is quite detrimental to crop growing. In the 20th century 98 percent of prairie dogs were exterminated. I even remember my father going on prairie dog hunting trips where they were killed for sport out of consideration for the local farmers.
It’s always heartbreaking when animals are killed because we are taking over their habitat. Hopefully the remaining prairie dogs can be preserved, so we can still enjoy catching a glimpse of the sweet prairie dog kiss.