Species Profile

Black-tailed Prairie Dog

Scientific Name: Cynomys ludovicianus
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: Saskatchewan
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2011
Last COSEWIC Designation: Threatened
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern


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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Black-tailed Prairie Dog

Black-tailed Prairie Dog Photo 1
Black-tailed Prairie Dog Photo 2

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Description

The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is a large burrow-dwelling squirrel that is yellowish in overall colour with brown or reddish-brown upper parts and whitish under parts. Its tail is relatively long and has a distinctive black tip. The Black-tailed Prairie Dog weighs between 1.0 and 1.5 kilograms and is slightly smaller than a house cat (about 40 cm long). A distinctive feature of the prairie dog is its territorial "jump-yip" display, in which the animal stretches its body vertically and throws its forefeet high into the air as it makes a bark-like call.

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Distribution and Population

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs occur in the arid grasslands (both short- and mixed-grass prairies) of the Great Plains of North America, from northern Chihuahua and Sonora, Mexico to southern Saskatchewan. In Canada, they only occur in and near the Frenchman River Valley in the very southern portion of Saskatchewan. There are no data that directly describe population size or trends for this species in Canada, but there are estimates of the area of grassland affected (or disturbed) by Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (i.e. the total area of Black-tailed Prairie Dog colonies in Canada). In 1995/1996, it was estimated that the 22 known prairie dog colonies in Saskatchewan occupied 931.7 hectares. This represents a 36% increase in total grassland area affected by the species since 1985, when 14 known colonies occupied an estimated 686.5 hectares. More recently, species density counts have been carried out. The 1997 counts yielded an average density of 3.6 adults and 12.6 juveniles per hectare.

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Habitat

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs inhabit broad, flat river valleys and upland grasslands. Here they establish large colonies, digging extensive burrows in the deep colluvial (rocky material at the base of a slope) or alluvial soil (fine soil deposited by water) and building large mounds. The vegetation in and around the colonies is often dominated by sage (Artemesia) and wheat grass (Agropyron). The shorter vegetation of these areas helps the species to more easily detect predators.

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Biology

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs live in colonies in river valleys and grasslands. They are mainly herbivourous, grazing on vegetation such as buffalo grass (Bromus) and thistle (Circium), but sometimes eat insects including grasshoppers and beetles. There is actually very little information on the biology and ecology of Canadian Black-tailed Prairie Dogs. In more southern areas, prairie dogs mate underground in the spring, reproduce once a year, and have, on average, 3 pups per litter. The young usually leave their burrows at about 41 days of age. Gestation last approximately 35 days, and young prairie dogs usually first reproduce during their second spring, when they are about 21 months old. The maximum life span for male prairie dogs is 5 years and females can live up to 8 years. Prairie dogs are thought to be the most sociable of the squirrels; living in harem-polygonous family groups within their colonies and displaying complex social patterns. The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is not generally considered to be a hibernating species, but the northern population may hibernate in order to survive harsh winter conditions.

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Threats

Canadian Black-tailed Prairie Dogs are particularly sensitive to human activities and natural events because of their restricted distribution at the northern edge of the species' range, and their apparent geographical isolation. Their social and colonial nature makes them very susceptible to disease. In addition, Black-tailed Prairie Dog seasonal activities and survival are likely constrained by climate. Grazing and disturbance of grasslands by the species places it in conflict with cattle production. Finally, pest control and social tolerance by humans are also concerns for the species.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Black-tailed Prairie Dog colonies occur within Grasslands National Park, where they are protected by the Canada National Parks Act. The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is also protected by the Saskatchewan Wildlife Act. Under this Act, it is prohibited to kill, harm, or harass this species.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Team

Black-footed Ferret / Black-tailed Prairie Dog Recovery Team

  • Joanne Tuckwell - Chair/Contact - Parks Canada
    Phone: 204-984-2416  Fax: 204-983-0031  Send Email

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

8 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Black-tailed Prairie Dog Cynomys ludovicianus in Canada (2012)

    The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is a diurnal, burrow-dwelling squirrel that lives in colonies. Individuals are 35-42 cm in body length, have short legs, tails with a black tip, small ears and brown to reddish-brown fur with an off-white underbelly. Prairie dogs are an important component of native short and mixed-grass prairie ecosystems and provide breeding habitat for two endangered species, the Mountain Plover and Burrowing Owl, as well as being an important prey for several rare and endangered species such as the reintroduced Black-footed Ferret. The Canadian population of the Black-tailed Prairie Dog is considered a distinct local population because it is at the northernmost point of the species’ range and is isolated from populations in the United States.
  • COSEWIC Update Status Report on the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) in Canada (2000)

    Prairie dogs occur in a small area of Canada, at the northern edge of the species’ range, and are geographically isolated beyond the typical dispersal distance of southern conspecifics. Therefore, the northernmost (Canadian) population of prairie dogs remains particularly sensitive to human activities and natural events.

COSEWIC Assessments

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Black-tailed Prairie Dog (2013)

    This small mammal is restricted to a relatively small population in southern Saskatchewan.  The change in status from Special Concern to Threatened is based mainly on the threat of increased drought, and sylvatic plague, both of which would be expected to cause significant population declines if they occur frequently.  Drought events are predicted to increase in frequency due to a changing climate.  Sylvatic plague was first recorded in 2010.  Although the Canadian population is in a protected area, it exists within a small area, and is isolated from other populations, all of which are located in the United States.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada (2016)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Grasslands National Park of Canada (GNP). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at GNP.

Management Plans

  • Management Plan for the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) in Canada (2009)

    The goal of this management plan is to prevent the Canadian prairie dog from becoming threatened or endangered by ensuring the population maintains at least 90 percent probability of persistence in 100 years. Within Grasslands National Park (Parks Canada Agency) the populations will be allowed to fluctuate in response to natural processes such as drought or predation. Regular monitoring will detect population changes so that appropriate actions can be taken in the event of dramatic declines that threaten the viability of the Canadian prairie dog population or if the prairie dog colonies' expansion negatively impacts other species at risk.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2011-2012 (2012)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (September 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012) from November 21 to 25, 2011 and from April 29 to May 4, 2012. On February 3, 2012, an Emergency Assessment Subcommittee of COSEWIC also assessed the status of the Tri-colored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus), the Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus), and the Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis). During the current reporting period COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 67 wildlife species. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2011-2012 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 1 Extirpated: 4 Endangered: 29 Threatened: 10 Special Concern: 15 Data Deficient: 2 Not at Risk: 6 Total: 67 Of the 67 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 49 species that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 26 of those species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment (see Table 1a).

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species – December 2012 (2013)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 4, 2013, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultations and by October 4, 2013, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations. Consultation paths.