Mexican Prairie Dog, Cynomys mexicanus

The Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus) is a rodent that is native to Mexico. It is related to squirrels and chipmunks. These prairie dogs prefer to burrow in soil without rocks on plains, and can live at altitudes between 5,250 and 7,200 feet. Its northern range includes San Luis Potosi and its southern range includes areas of Coahuila.

The Mexican prairie dog can reach an average body length of up to seventeen inches, and an average weight of 2.2 pounds. The overall fur color is yellow, while the underbelly is pale and the ears are darker in color. Prairie dogs are capable of making a large range of calls, and are considered to have one of the most sophisticated “languages” among animal species. These noises include yips and high-pitched barks.

As is typical to prairie dogs, the Mexican prairie dog will dig large borrows, or “towns” to use as shelter and security. The typical burrow has a funnel-shaped entrance that leads to a corridor that can be nearly 100 feet long. There are many nests and storage rooms leading out from this corridor. Up to 100 individuals can inhabit a burrow, led by an alpha male, although the average number of prairie dogs is approximately 50. Occasionally burrowing owls or spotted ground squirrels may inhabit the burrows as well
Mexican prairie dogs found in their northern range will hibernate, and have a short mating season that occurs between the months of January to April. An average of four pups are born in each litter, blind and hairless. Weaning occurs between May and early June, and pups will leave their mothers by autumn. Sexual maturity is reached after one year of age. The average lifespan of the Mexican prairie dog is between three and five years.

The diet of the Mexican prairie dog consists of grasses and herbs that are native to their range, and they may consume insects as well. They will consume most of their water from plant materials. Common predators of these prairie dogs include hawks, badgers, weasels, bobcats, snakes, and coyotes.

The Mexican prairie dog’s range once included Nuevo León, but by the 1980’s, it had completely disappeared from that area. Because it was considered a pest to famers, it was poisoned in order to protect crops. In 1994, it was listed as endangered and now inhabits only four percent of its natural range. Within its small range, conservationist groups like Profauna and Pronatura Noreste conduct conservation efforts in order to protect the Mexican prairie dog. Other species in its range are protected as well, including birds of prey and shore birds. In 2007, conservation agreements were signed by Pronatura Noreste, private landowners, and ejidos to set back more than 42,000 acres for the Mexican prairie dog. It appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern”.

Image Caption: Corvus brachyrhynchos. Credit: Cristinagil/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)