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Prairie Dogs

Nature's engineers

If you’re looking for a fun way to spend a spring or summer afternoon, check out the highly social and interactive black-tailed prairie dog community at the ABQ BioPark Zoo.

Prairie dogs live in tight-knit family communities called “coteries.” In addition to their social behavior, these rodents are known for their engineering skills. The BioPark’s prairie dogs—like their wild relatives—have designed their own unique underground tunnel system, which usually contains separate rooms for rearing young, sleeping, eliminating waste and storing food.

Black-tailed prairie dogs have been called “ecosystem engineers” and are identified as a keystone species in many of the regions they inhabit—their foraging and burrowing habits coupled with their existence as a key prey item helps boost the diversity of plant life, vertebrates and invertebrates.

To protect the colony, several prairie dogs work as guards. If a threat appears, these guards chirp to alert others to hide underground. Some researchers have suggested that prairie dogs use a sophisticated system of vocal communication to describe specific predators.

Prairie dogs are selective opportunists when it comes to eating—if their preferred foods are in shortage, they adapt their diets quickly. The BioPark’s prairie dogs enjoy munching on grass, hay and pellets. In the summer they get fresh veggies including greens and carrots.

The BioPark normally has anywhere from about 10-20 prairie dogs. Because they hibernate through the cold days, you’re most likely to see them during the spring and summer.