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Prairie Dog Facts for Kids

Want to learn some prairie dog facts for kids? We’ll talk about their physical description, burrows, offspring, and more!

prairie dog colony on rock

This article is going to focus on the black-tailed prairie dog, but there are four other prairie dog species.

This article is going to focus on the black-tailed prairie dog, but there are four other types of prairie dogs.

  • White-tailed prairie dog
  • Gunnison’s prairie dog
  • Utah prairie dog
  • Mexican prairie dog

Physical Description

The color of a black-tailed prairie dog ranges from tan to brownish-red. Their fur is lighter on their bellies. They have broad, round heads with small eyes and ears. They have long whiskers located under their short snouts.

Prairie dogs have long bodies that look a bit chubby. They have four short legs with five-fingered clawed hands. Black-tailed prairie dogs are named after their short, black-tipped tails.

Black-tailed prairie dogs grow to be between fourteen and seventeen inches long. They weigh between two and five pounds.


Black-tailed prairie dogs are only found in North America. They are found from the Canadian/US border all the way south to the US/Mexico border. They live in the Great Plains and other areas across the central and western United States. Black-tailed prairie dogs dwell in grasslands in dry, open, flat areas.

prairie dog looking out of burrow


Prairie dogs are social creatures. They live in family groups, and the family groups live together to create a colony.  The colony digs an underground burrow system to live in. This burrow system is called a town. The burrow system has chambers and tunnels with many entrances. Not all the chambers and tunnels are connected.

Prairie dog towns are like our towns. People live in their own neighborhoods, and there are different houses in each neighborhood. Prairie dog families each have their own place in the prairie dog burrow system. Different places in the burrow have different uses. For example, there are nesting chambers and rooms that prairie dogs use to listen for predators.

Prairie dogs build mounds at the town’s entrances so they can stand and keep watch for predators. The mounds also prevent water from entering the burrows.

Prairie dogs are known for their advanced communication. Their communication is a type of language. They communicate with their bodies and with sounds. Black-tailed prairie dogs have a warning call they use when they see a predator.  They make different sounds to describe different types of predators. They have a wide variety of different sounds that they use to communicate different things. Scientists don’t understand the meaning of all the sounds and movements that black-tailed prairie dogs make.

Black-tailed prairie dogs are active during the day, but they stay in their burrows if it's too hot outside. Black-tailed prairie dogs don't hibernate like other prairie dog species. They go into a type of hibernation called torpor. Their bodies slow down, and they sleep for a few days at a time.


prairie dog eating

Prairie dogs are omnivores. They mainly eat plants and vegetation. Their diet ranges from seeds, roots, and grass to grasshoppers and beetles. Prairie dogs don't drink water.  They get the water they need from the food they eat.


A black-tailed prairie dog mother gives birth after being pregnant for about thirty days. She typically has one litter of three to five pups during the summer months. The pups are born blind, naked, and unable to walk. Both the prairie dog parents help take care of the litter. The father prairie dog helps by protecting the family while the mother takes care of the pups.

Prairie dog babies typically start leaving their burrow at about six weeks old to forage for food. Once juveniles leave their burrows, they start playing and learning. Playing allows them to practice physical and social skills. As they mature, they learn to dig, forage, and socialize by watching older prairie dogs.

prairie dog with baby


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum:  Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Rodentia

Family: Sciuridae

Genus: Cynomys

Species: Cynomys ludovicianus


Prairie dogs are most closely related to North American and Eurasian ground squirrels. Fossils of these squirrels have been found in western North America. These ground squirrels were in North America between two and three million years ago.


Black-tailed prairie dogs have a variety of natural predators. Black-tailed prairie dogs are a food source for many animals. Black-tailed prairie dog predators include coyotes, bobcats, badgers, eagles, and hawks.


Male black-tailed prairie dogs live to be about five years old in the wild. Female black-tailed prairie dogs live a little longer at eight years old. Prairie dogs that live in captivity can live for over eight years.

two prairie dogs eating

What Sound Does a Prairie Dog Make?

Click on this audio file to hear what a prairie dog sounds like.

25+ Cool Prairie Dog Facts for Kids

  1. Prairie dogs are named for their habitat and for the sound they make, which sounds like a dog’s bark.
  2. A prairie dog tunnel can be up to 6 feet deep and is typically 15 feet long.
  3. The largest prairie dog colony on record was 25,000 square miles, bigger than the state of West Virginia.
  4. Family groups of prairie dogs are called “coterie”.
  5. Black-tailed prairie dogs share food and groom each other.
  6. Black-tailed prairie dogs go underground when it rains.
  7. Prairie dog family members greet each other with a kiss.
  8. Female black-tailed prairie dogs share nursing and care duties for the town's prairie pups.
  9. The largest black-tailed prairie dog colony on record had 4,000,000 members.
  10. Black-tailed prairie dogs use their excellent eyesight and hearing to detect predators.
  11. The explorers Lewis and Clark nicknamed the black-tailed prairie dog the “barking squirrel”.
  12. The black-tailed prairie dog is listed as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List.
  13. The claws of a prairie dog make them excellent diggers and fighters.
  14. Prairie dogs are keystone species because so many animals rely on them as a food source.
  15. Prairie dog burrows provide shelter for other creatures such as insects, arachnids, and birds.
  16. Female prairie dogs are best friends and stay in their family group for life.
  17. Prairie dogs keep their burrows very clean and tidy.
  18. The range of prairie dogs has been reduced by 95%.
  19. Prairie dogs don't make good family pets.
  20. Prairie dog towns have been given the nickname “supermarkets of the Great Plains.”
  21. Prairie dogs clear the area around their burrow so they can see predators.
  22. Prairie dogs build their burrow systems in a way that allows wind to flow through the tunnels.
  23. Prairie dogs take dust baths to get rid of fleas and other insects.
  24. Many people don't like prairie dogs because their burrows destroy landscaped areas and farmland.
  25. The black-footed ferret is no longer a main black-tailed prairie dog predator because there are so few of them.

We hope you liked learning all about prairie dogs! Did you discover anything new? Let us know what other facts you know about them. We can’t wait to find out more.

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