Prairie Dogs

Biology and Ecology

Quick Facts

  • Prairie dogs live 3-5 years
  • Give birth to 3-5 pups
  • Family units are called coteries

Common name: Black-tailed prairie dog

Scientific name: Cynomys ludovicianus



Black-tailed prairie dogs are mid-sized burrowing rodents.  Native to the great plains region of North America, they are found in short-grass and mid-grass ecosystems.

They live in family units called coteries that have 1 adult male, 2-3 adult females and young.  Several coteries collectively make up a colony, sometimes also called a prairie dog town.

Only about 40% of prairie dogs reach maturity.  Surviving adults may live 3-5 years.

Prairie dogs feed on grasses and forbs. They also clip down taller vegetation to clear sightlines and to line their burrows. Most of the clipped vegetation is left unused on top of the ground.  Prairie dogs get most of their water from the moisture within plants they feed on.

Burrows are about 5-10 feet deep and 15-35 feet long.  Each burrow is made up of a number of chambers and has at least two openings.  

Prairie dog towns host several other species.  Within Jefferson County, snakes, insects and arachnids may be found in active burrows.  Birds, small mammals, and reptiles may use the same habitat for feeding, nesting, or protection.  Coyotes, eagles, and hawks are predators that will occasionally feed on prairie dogs.

Prairie dogs do not hibernate but may stay in their burrow during periods of hot or cold days.  They may enter a state that allows their body’s systems to slow down.

Since the mid to late 1800’s, prairie dog habitat has been altered by man through converting prairie grasslands to agriculture, building roads, and urban development.  Prairie dogs still reside in our area but their range has been significantly reduced and become fragmented.


First found in Colorado in the mid-1950’s, plague is a flea borne disease that can decimate prairie dog towns.  Domestic pets that enter prairie dog towns may be bitten by the fleas or may carry the fleas home. 


Management of prairie dogs may become necessary if they are impacting neighboring properties, if they have denuded your land, or if their population is too large for your site.

Management Options

Healthy vegetation
Managing undesirable and weedy vegetation will encourage healthier grasses and forbs.  Having a sustainable supply of food puts less pressure on a colony to disperse.

Maintaining a buffer and tall healthy vegetation at the borders of the property may discourage prairie dog movement.  Barrier fencing is another option but has shown lower success in our region.

Prairie dogs may be hunted as small mammals.  Hunting is regulated by state and local entities so make sure you have the necessary permissions.

Lethal control
Lethal methods that may be employed include poison bait, gases, trapping and euthanasia.  State and federal regulations apply.

Removal for use in wild animal rehabilitation programs may be an option.  Colorado Department of Wildlife is the regulatory entity and is the agency that issues movement permits.

Relocation to a different site may be possible but suitable habitat and willing receiving property owners are difficult to find.  Both a relocation permit issued by the Colorado Department of Wildlife, and the approval of receiving county’s Board of County Commissioners are required.



Related Documents