Prairie dogs in Colorado, YouTube from the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife
Prairie dogs are herbivorous members of the squirrel family. Three species of prairie dogs are found in Colorado. The black-tailed prairie dog lives on the eastern plains, the Gunnison prairie dog in the southwest third of the state, and the whitetailed prairie dog in the northwest third of the state. Prairie dogs live in complex networks of underground tunnels that generally have multiple openings to the surface above. Colonies are easily identified by the raised-burrow entrances that provide protection from the elements and enable the diminutive prairie dogs some extra height when watching for predators. The tunnels themselves contain separate “rooms” for sleeping, rearing young, storing food, and eliminating waste.
Prairie dog colonies may be found in pastures and fields. They become a concern when they invade athletic fields around schools. Prairie dogs are hosts for fleas, making them susceptible to bubonic plague. Plague is transmitted to humans via flea bites. Early symptoms of plague include swollen and tender lymph nodes, chills and fever. Early diagnosis and treatment is imperative.
What to do
Before beginning a control program, consider the economic and environmental importance of prairie dogs. Prairie dog burrows serve as homes for burrowing owls, cottontail rabbits, rattlesnakes and other animals. Prairie dogs are a major food source for predators, including the endangered black-footed ferret, badgers, coyotes, foxes, prairie falcons, ferruginous hawks, eagles and owls. The burrowing activity of prairie dogs decreases soil compaction, increases water intake, aerates the soil and promotes soil formation. Prairie dogs also provide recreation for photographers, hunters and naturalists.
For information on management, visit the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management. Several alternatives for prairie dog control are available, including trapping, barriers, shooting, using poison baits, and using fumigants (poison gas).