What Are the Predators of the Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs?

Among the many predators of black-tailed prairie dogs are coyotes, bobcats, badgers, swift foxes, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, ferruginous hawks and rattlesnakes. Rare black-footed ferrets, burrowing owls and some species of snakes descend into black-tailed prairie dog holes to hunt them.

Because of the abundance of predators, prairie dogs have listening posts near the exits of their elaborate underground warrens. They have a special chirp-like call that signals danger is near. One prairie dog makes the initial warning and others take it up. When the danger is past and it is safe to come out, an individual sounds the all-clear, others echo it, and soon the entire town is yipping and dancing.

Black-tailed prairie dogs live in communities called towns that typically cover a square mile and contain a few hundred individuals. However, the largest known town was spread over 25,000 square miles and had an estimated population of 400 million. In some areas, prairie dogs are considered a keystone species, making vital contributions to the well-being of the local flora and fauna. In ranchlands, however, they are considered pests and are exterminated. Besides predators and humans, another danger to prairie dogs is disease, which sometimes claims entire colonies. Though there are periodic attempts to list the black-tailed prairie dog as a threatened or endangered species, although in 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that protection was not warranted.