Head For The Holes!

Reminder:  You can enlarge any of the photos in this blog by clicking on it.  Click again for a full-screen image.

We’re just back from our weekend in Flagstaff and I’ll be posting images from our trip over the next few days.

We were delighted to discover that there is a large and active prairie dog colony right next door to the motel that we stayed in and I spent a few hours photographing these animals.  It wasn’t easy.  Prairie dogs are extraordinarily wary animals.  They don’t like intruders into their domain and their instinct is to dive into their burrows whenever someone or something unwelcome approaches.  It took me quite a while before I could edge close enough to get a few photos of these big rodents.

The species that I photographed is Gunnison’s Prairie Dog, one of five species living in the American Southwest and northern Mexico.  Its range consists of parts of northern Arizona and New Mexico and southern Colorado and Utah.

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Prairie dogs, including Gunnison’s Prairie Dog, tend to live in large colonies that may cover many acres of land.  There may be thousands of individuals within a colony.  However, colonies are subdivided into much smaller territories that contain families of just a few or perhaps a few dozen individuals.  Members of a territory defend their turf against invading neighbors.

Prairie dogs are related to squirrels and woodchucks.  They are fairly large, bigger than an eastern gray squirrel but smaller than a woodchuck.  They live in burrows that may be extensive.  They hand their burrows down from generation to generation and an individual burrow may be hundreds or even thousands of years old albeit gradually enlarged and improved over time.  A prairie dog is likely to spend the majority of its life underground, coming out to feed and to hang out with its neighbors.  Prairie dogs hibernate in winter, typically for a week or so at a time followed by a brief period of wakefulness, and then, a return to sleep.

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They are extremely social animals.  I observed them foraging in groups of 8-10 animals and they showed a lot of affection towards each other.  Researchers have discovered that prairie dogs have developed an elaborate language of barks and whistles that actually contains a grammar and invented “words” that are used to describe new situations and potential threats.  A prairie dog will identify an interloper by a unique call, meaning that it will not only invent a “word” to describe a human interloper but one that describes a particular human interloper.

The animals that I photographed definitely alerted each other to my presence.  I wonder what the prairie dog “word” is for “human with gigantic tube sticking out of the front of his head?”

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Photos taken with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, ISO 400, settings varied.

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