Prairie Dog Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Sarah Caughron

Sarah has a master's degree in Applied Anthropology/Archaeology and has worked in formal and informal education since 2006.

What animal barks but isn't a dog? It's a prairie dog! This lesson will teach you about what a prairie dog is and what life is like inside a prairie dog town.

What is a Prairie Dog?

As settlers crossed the Great Plains many years ago, they heard noises that sounded similar to a dog barking. Imagine traveling across the prairie in a covered wagon and hearing barking noises coming from an animal that looks like a groundhog and sounds like a dog! Today, we know these animals as prairie dogs, and they got their name from the barking heard by the settlers.

Prairie dogs are burrowing rodents.
Prairie Dog

Prairie dogs aren't dogs at all. In fact, they are a type of burrowing rodent and are closely related to a squirrel like the ones in your backyard. Prairie dogs are omnivores and will eat insects, but their favorite meals are the plants and seeds that live in the grasslands they inhabit.

In captivity, a prairie dog can live up to 8 years, but they only live about 3-5 years in the wild. Prairie dogs can weigh between 1 and 3 pounds. They stand about one-foot-tall, and you can often see them standing on their back legs just outside their den investigating a sound or searching for predators, like black-footed ferrets, eagles, and coyotes.

Prairie dogs live in close families and often groom and nuzzle each other.
Prairie dogs live in large groups.

Where do Prairie Dogs Live?

Prairie dogs live in western and central North America, and there are five species of prairie dogs that live in this range including the Utah, the Mexican, the white-tailed, the Gunnison's, and the black-tailed prairie dog. The species with the highest population is the black-tailed prairie dog. You can find this species in the Great Plains region of North America.

Prairie dogs dig tunnels and live underground. But, they don't just dig one tunnel! They dig lots of tunnels and create rooms for things, like sleeping, similar to how your house has different rooms. The tunnels they dig connect to other tunnels dug by prairie dogs in their family.

Because of the large amount of tunnels they dig, prairie dogs are considered a keystone species. This means that their tunnels provide a home for more than 150 types of other animals including mice, snakes, insects, and salamanders.

Prairie dogs make barking sounds to warn others about predators.
Prairie dogs live in underground dens.

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