2000

Mexican Prairie Dog

Central America

2000

Cynomys mexicanus

Endangered

  • The future of the Mexican Prairie Dog is uncertain due to the intense human pressures, particularly habitat loss due to the expansion of agricultural and livestock operations, throughout its restricted range.

The Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus) is a diurnal burrowing rodent native to Mexico. Treatment as an agricultural pest has led to its status as an endangered species. They are closely related to squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots. Cynomys mexicanus originated about 230,000 years ago from a peripherally isolated population of the more widespread Cynomys ludovicianus.

These prairie dogs prefer to inhabit rock-free soil in plains at an altitude of 1,600–2,200 m (5,200–7,200 ft). They are found in the regions of southern Coahuila and northern San Luis Potosí in northern Mexico, where they eat herbs and grasses native to the plains where they live. They acquire all of their water from these plants. Although mainly herbivores, they have been known to eat insects. Predators include coyotes, bobcats, eagles, hawks, badgers, snakes, and weasels. Northern prairie dogs hibernate and have a shorter mating season, which generally lasts from January to April. After one month's gestation, females give birth to one litter per year, an average of four hairless pups. They are born with eyes closed and use their tails as visual aids until they can see, about 40 days after birth. Weaning occurs during late May and early June, when yearlings may break away from the burrow. Pups leave their mothers by fall.

As they grow older, young play fighting games that involve biting, hissing, and tackling. They reach sexual maturity after one year, with a lifespan of 3–5 years; adults weigh about 1 kg (2.2 lb) and are 14-17 inches long, and males are larger than females. Their coloring is yellowish, with darker ears and a lighter belly. Prairie dogs have one of the most sophisticated languages in the animal world—a system of high-pitched yips and barks—and can run up to 35 miles per hour (56 kilometres per hour). As a consequence, their defense mechanism is to sound the alarm, and then get away quickly.

Mexican prairie dogs live in excavated colonies, referred to as "towns", which they dig for shelter and protection. A typical town has a funnel-like entrance that slants down into a corridor up to 100 ft (30 m) long, with side chambers for storage and nesting. Towns can contain hundreds of animals, but generally have fewer than 50, with a single alpha male. Sometimes, spotted ground squirrels or burrowing owls share the burrow with its rightful owners.