Prairie dogs are burrowing rodents that live in colonies called towns. There are five species of prairie dogs, all of which are native to North America. While they were once the most numerous animals in North America, human efforts have decreased the prairie dog population by 95 percent.
Prairie dogs live in the Great Plains in the open grasslands and prairies. Their habitat extends from Mexico into Canada. They create extensive underground tunnel systems that include specialized chambers for food storage, sleeping, toileting and nurseries. Openings into the tunnel include a funnel-shaped dirt dike that prevents rain from flooding their homes. The entrance is a sloped tunnel that leads about 20 feet underground before leveling out into a hallway that leads to the specialized chambers. The tunnels are interconnected, allowing the occupants a way of escape.
Prairie dogs have an average lifespan of three to five years in the wild. Their primary method of protection is through an extensive communication system that allows them to warn others in the town of predators. Upon hearing a warning bark, prairie dogs can run up to 35 miles per hour for short distances to enter one of their tunnels.
Prairie dogs live in family groups, called coteries, which include a male, several females and their offspring. They greet others in the family group with nuzzles. The family group shares food and responsibilities. They join with other families to form wards, and several wards form a town.