Common name: Gunnison’s prairie dog

Scientific name: Cynomys gunnisoni

Other names: Zuni prairie dog

Identification: More closely related to white-tailed prairie dogs than black-tailed prairie dogs. Short tail (1 ¼ - 2 ¼ inches; 3-6 cm) with gray/grayish white tail tip. Black cheek patch and eyestripe. Body length 11-12 inches (28-30 cm) with an average weight of 2 lbs. (900 g). Generally the smallest of the five prairie dog species.

Habitat: Prairies, grasslands and shrublands in high mountain valleys and plateaus 6,000-12,000 feet (1,830-3,660 m). Found only in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona.

Food: Grasses, forbs, blue grama, seeds, sedges.

Reproduction: Breeding takes place below ground from mid-March to early May. Females are receptive only one day per year and have only one litter per year. Gestation is 29-30 days and average litter size is 4 pups. Females lactate for 35-44 days. Able to breed at 1 year old.

Behavior: Gunnison’s prairie dogs are not as social as black-tailed prairie dogs but do live in colonies or towns. Social relations mostly consist of mother-offspring but can vary with resources. If resources (i.e. grass and other plants) are plentiful and evenly distributed then Gunnison’s prairie dogs tend to be monogamous family structures. When resources are more patchy then social relations tend to be more like the black-tailed prairie dog. The alarm call of Gunnison’s prairie dogs differs from other species and is well studied. Diurnal (active during the day) and hibernates in the winter months. Body temperature drops drastically until the muscles become rigid and the prairie dog curls up. This occurs in roughly 8-day durations and then the prairie dog raises the body temperature to normal and is active for 21 hours before repeating. Hibernation generally occurs October-April. Territory usually about 1 acre (0.4 hectares). Gunnison’s prairie dogs can live up to 4 years.

Conservation status: Similar to the white-tailed prairie dog, the historic records for Gunnison’s prairie dog abundance are poor. It is generally accepted the species has declined from historic times due to poisoning campaigns and plague. In 2004 the Gunnison’s prairie dog was petitioned for listing as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act but listing was denied in 2006. The US Fish & Wildlife Service revisited the potential listing in 2007 and in 2008 listed Gunnison’s prairie dogs in south-central Colorado and north-central New Mexico only as a candidate species (should be listed but will not be at this time because of higher priorities).


Recommended resources:

Prairie Dogs: Communication and Community in an Animal Society by Con Slobodchikoff et al. 2009. Harvard University Press.
Status of White-Tailed and Gunnison’s Prairie Dogs by Craig Knowles. 2002. National Wildlife Federation and Environmental Defense.