If you were expecting the owner of the name to be a cute puppy, then you will be disappointed. But that frown won’t stay for long, for the Utah prairie dog is one of the cutest creatures you’ll ever come across the surface of the planet. But if enough measures aren’t taken on time, it won’t be long before they too become a memory.
Know My Name
The Utah Prairie Dog is the smallest species of the prairie dog. They belong to the squirrel family of rodents that are native to the south-central steppes of the US state of Utah. The species once inhabited the Western Great Plains. Astonished by their huge numbers across the prairie, they were given the name “prairie dogs” by the first pioneers who settled there.
The Utah prairie dog’s fur can be of multi-colors, ranging from black, brown, and dark brown at the tip. Its face has dark brown cheeks and a whitish tone of chins and mouth. Their black “eyebrows” are what make them distinguishable from the others. The total body length of an adult ranges from 30.5 – 36.0 cm, the short tail being 3-6 cm. The adult males weigh between 0.77 kg to 1.41 kg and the females 0.64 kg to 1.13 kg. They live in large colonies with many members. Within each colony, there will be “clans” consisting of a family of one sexually mature adult, and a couple of mature female adults. These multiple entrances help them hide from hawks and coyotes, they allow easy access to snakes and badgers. And so, some usually keep a lookout for danger and warn others as soon as they feel threatened.
Utah prairie dogs show sexual dimorphism where the males are bigger than females, although the ratio varies by season. The mating season usually begins a few weeks after they emerge from hibernation, between late March to early April. The gestation period lasts 28-31 days, after which up to 7 pups can be born. The young ones are raised in separate “nurseries” and stay underground until they are 5-6 weeks old.
Utah prairie dogs were found in the southern part of Utah, but can currently be seen also in the central and southwestern part of Utah. They prefer marshy lands with herbaceous plants. They build deep burrows on soils with a drainage system, with almost 25 entrances, the depth protecting them from predators and other factors like temperature. They forage for food from dawn till just after dusk. They also hibernate for the winter, usually from November to February
Utah prairie dogs are herbivores but they do occasionally eat small insects. They usually feed grasses but they do consume flowers in shrubs. Utah prairie dogs choose only a few species of grasses only that are native to the soil.
Help the Helper
The species’ burrowing activities do help aerate the soil and their dung act as a natural fertilizer, but there have been occasions where the Utah prairie dogs caused significant damage to farms by digging holes and eating crops. This nuisance made Utah farmers use poison to destroy the animal. This is a major reason for the decline in population, though there are other reasons, like land development, deteriorating rangeland health, the encroachment of woody vegetation, sylvatic plague, and drought. Efforts initiated for their conservation include encouraging landowners to improve the health of their rangelands and compensating farmers who set aside areas the prairie dogs may use.
The Utah prairie dogs appear in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and were termed as Endangered in 1973 on the U.S Fish and Wildlife list of Threatened and Endangered Species. But it was later down-listed as “Threatened” in 1984.
The slow yet steady increase in numbers does provide hope that maybe it’s not too late to start putting an effort to save their lives, as well as many other species that are on the brink of extinction.