The five species of prairie dogs that exist today can only be found in America, and they built their habitats exclusively along the Great Plain. These creatures have complex communication systems, but are best known for the intricate burrows they build with their families below the surface of the Earth. But what do they eat? This remains more or less constant, whether you are talking about black-footed prairie dogs or Utah prairie dogs. Here are the facts.
What do prairie dogs eat in the wild?
The typical prairie dog diet is varied and seasonally dependent, although prairie dogs are almost entirely vegetarian. Although insects are sometimes part of the daily diet of prairie dogs, they are known to sometimes eat insects as well. Summer and spring usually offer the most lavish meals for prairie dogs, which feed on grass and seeds that sprout throughout the season. As these springs begin to dry up in the fall, prairie dogs switch to grasses – broad-leaved plants on which flowers grow.
With the onset of winter, prairie dogs switch to seeds and insects, which serve as sources of fiber. Most prairie dog species do not hibernate during the winter, but they gain weight in preparation for the colder months, and can go into a deeper catatonic sleep state during particularly skinny and cold periods. Fortunately, the elaborate spaces that make up prairie dog townships have a level of isolation that can keep them comfortable and protect the little prairie dogs in the kennel from the cold. Despite this, they will continue to forage during the winter months.
What do prairie dogs eat in captivity?
Prairie dogs are an increasingly popular choice for pets. Although the nutritional needs of domestic prairie dogs are the same as in the wild, their needs are similar to those of a domestic rabbit. Grass hay will make up the bulk of the diet of healthy domestic prairie dogs, although nutrient-rich grass hay such as alfalfa should only be fed in moderation. Some owners supplement their hay rations with rabbit pellets, although this is not necessary for a healthy diet.
While rabbit pellets are a must, fresh vegetables are essential. Prairie dogs are especially fond of dark greens such as cilantro, cabbage, and bok choy. While prairie dogs are rarely seen with fruit in the wild, they love fruit as a treat. Melons and berries are great choices for special occasions, but make sure treats make up no more than 5% of your prairie dog’s diet.
What do prairie puppies eat?
A young prairie dog is known as a puppy, and they will feed exclusively on their mother’s milk for the first months or two of their life. After that, they will be allowed to leave their burrow – and, although they cannot get food on their own, at this point the puppies will begin to feed on leaves and grass. Black-tailed prairie dogs will not become full adults until 12-15 months, but during this period they will completely switch to adult food. They also lead incredibly active lives. As a result, young captive prairie dogs will need higher levels of protein to fuel this accelerated growth stage.
Do prairie dogs eat on their own?
Not all prairie dogs are cannibals, but similar behavior has been found among the black-tailed prairie dog species. However, researchers believe this behavior is an act of natural selection and not a form of support. Prairie dog bitches are known to eat young members of their large family. The prevailing hypothesis is that prairie dogs kill the pups of related females to increase the chances of their own pups surviving longer.
Similar behavior can be seen in the way the black-tailed prairie dog reacts to the presence of ground squirrels in the same ecosystem. But while prairie dogs are known to eat small prairie dogs, they simply kill gophers. This behavior is mainly seen in the female species, and it is believed that these attacks occur as a way to reduce competition. Gophers reduce the availability of plant matter in prairie dog habitats, and the bloody hostility of prairie dogs is just one of the most serious facts of survival in the wild.
How do prairie dogs stay hydrated?
Under ideal conditions, prairie dogs get all the moisture they need from the roots, grasses, and plants they consume, but the facts on earth are rarely perfect, and wild prairie dogs are known to seek more creative forms of hydration. Cacti can provide scarce nutritional value and water content for prairie dogs living in drought conditions, and pregnant prairie dogs eat snow to feed their growing offspring.
You shouldn’t neglect providing water to your pet prairie dogs just because they don’t need them in the wild. Domestic prairie dogs do well when given a regular source of healthy water. A sipper bottle is the most hygienic way to dehydrate prairie dogs, but remember to clean it regularly to keep the water healthy.
How does prairie dog diet affect their habitat?
The intricate tunnels and burrows that prairie dogs create ensure that they are key species in their ecosystems, and approximately 150 different animals rely on these tunnels for their way of life. And digging actually affects the type of food available for prairie dogs and other creatures in the ecosystem. Their constant digging mixes different soil types together and aerates the earth, which can lead to a richer and more vibrant plant ecosystem. The monstrous digging of prairie dogs can infuriate ranchers, but they can also make plant life healthier and more digestible for livestock.
Prairie dogs help transform the desert into grasslands, and they keep these habitats available to a certain variety of species by clearing the land in ways that prevent trees and stronger growth. They are known to even trim grass and other plants that they do not eat, specifically in order to identify predators from a distance.
What animals do prairie dogs eat?
Prairie dogs play an important role as casual farmers in their habitat, but they also play an important role as prey species. And there is no animal that better demonstrates the importance of the functioning of the food chain than the black-footed ferret. The near extermination of prairie dogs has also led to the near extinction of this prairie dog ferret. They actually use the tunnels that prairie dogs dig to nest and hunt, and the lack of their favorite prey was enough to wipe out their population.
The current population of prairie dogs is only a fraction of what it was several decades ago, but they are still important members of the Great Plains ecosystem. Their diet may be standard, but their food-gathering habits – as well as their habits of digging intricate underground webs – help fuel life in myriad forms. These creatures are still treated as pests in many of their habitats, and two species are listed under the Endangered Species Act.