Prairie Dogs

(Frank) Nap time over, we’re back. (Deb) OK, when I moved to Kansas, I had never seen a prairie dog until I moved to Kansas. So, all those great things that you associate with the West and moving west, I had not seen. And I have to tell you nothing has fascinated me more than the prairie dogs. When we went even farther west…we had friends visiting from back east, went to Little Big Horn, western Kansas, we did everything. Go to Devil’s Tower. Devil’s Tower has this huge Prairie Dog Town and they are not skittish like many of the prairie dogs in western Kansas because Kansas prairie dogs get shot at. So, the ones up at Devil’s Tower where it is a protected environment, they can’t shoot at ’em cause it’s a National Park and all that good stuff. They’re not skittish. Everybody’s looking at Devil’s Tower and they’re like, Oh wow! And I’m over here with the prairie dogs. They’re the funniest little animal because you know they’re standing up there, and keeping watch and then it’s like, oh phone call, and they just jump down you know, back into the hole. Supper’s burning! They’re just the funniest little creatures. (Frank) Can you eat ’em? (Deb) You can. And you know, people who were coming over the wagon trains, they talk about those little dogs more than any other creature. Because it was fascinating to them too. And yea, if they couldn’t find enough game, they did eat ’em. I’ve never had one myself, I don’t know, don’t have any prairie dog recipes. You might share some if you’ve got ’em. But they can be eaten. (Frank) On your way to Dodge City, if you run over one, like stop and have a little road kill. (Deb) Yea, a little. Roast that one on the side of the road, or something. There’s a plan. (Frank) OK. (Deb) Something else for the menu. Let’s take a look at those little creatures. (Deb) Black-tailed prairie dogs, named for their black-tipped tails and dog-like bark, once lived throughout the Great Plains in towns that extended for miles and contained hundreds of thousands of individuals. The rodents excavate a complex underground system of tunnels and rooms that may be as deep as 15 feet with horizontal tunnels reaching 10-15 feet long. The soil is pushed to the surface to create numerous mounds. They forage throughout the day with sentinels sitting upright, standing guard as others feed. When a predator is sighted, the sentinel barks and the entire colony scampers to their protective burrows. Abandoned burrows provide homes for spiders, salamanders, toads, ornate box turtles, snakes and burrowing owls. Black-tailed prairie dogs live on the High Plains from northern Mexico to southern Canada. They are found in short grass prairies and rangelands of the western half of Kansas. In the spring, females produce a single litter of 2-10 pups. They may live up to 8 years. Black-tailed prairie dogs feed primarily on green vegetation, including grasses, seeds, stems and the occasional insect. According to the Parks and Wildlife office in Pratt, Kansas, there is no closed hunting season on prairie dogs and no license is required for Kansas residents. There is also no bag limit. A license is required for non-residents. Andy Chappell, wildlife biologist at the Cimarron National Grasslands, said that plague sweeps through the prairie dog population periodically. The last one occurred a couple of years ago, said Andy, and spread like wildfire, leaving less than two thousand acres of prairie dog towns throughout the more than one hundred thousand acre park. Other animals, like coyotes who feed on the animals, seem unaffected by the disease. The Cimarron National Grasslands boasts not only prairie dogs but also some stunning western views, truly one of our state’s treasures. Their offices are in Elkhart, in southwestern Kansas, so give them a call and plan a visit.

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