Common name: White-tailed prairie dog

Scientific name: Cynomys leucurus

Other names: None

Identification: White-tailed prairie dogs are identified by a white tail tip and black spot above eye. They are 11-12 inches (28-30 cm) long plus a 1 ¼ - 2 ½ inch (3-6 cm) tail. Tail is shorter than black-tailed and Mexican prairie dog tail. Adults weigh 1 ½ -3 ½ lbs. (680-1,600g).

Habitat: Grasslands, prairie and sometimes shrubby areas in higher elevations (3,700-10,500 feet; 1,120-3,182 m) than black-tailed prairie dogs. Found only in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and a small portion of Montana.

Food: Grass, shrubs, forbs, seeds. Sagebrush, saltbush, wheatgrass, rabbitbrush.

Reproduction: Takes place in March-April. Gestation is 30 days and average litter size is 5. One litter per year. Pups emerge above ground late May-early June. After weaning pups leave their natal area. Able to reproduce at 1 year old.

Behavior: White-tailed prairie dogs are colonial but not as social as black-tailed prairie dogs. A mother-offspring relationship exists within a territory of about 2.4 acres (1 hectare) until the pups disperse. White-tailed prairie dogs normally hibernate. Adults become inactive in August-September and juveniles start hibernation in October-November. Emerge from hibernation in late February-early March. Diurnal (active during the day) and spend most of their time feeding, maintaining burrows and on the alert for predators such as eagles, hawks, coyotes and badgers. In some areas burrow mounds are hidden within taller vegetation to hide from predators. Alarm call is different than black-tailed prairie dogs.The density of white-tailed prairie dogs on a colony (number of animals per unit area) is generally lower than black-tailed prairie dogs.

Conservation status:

White-tailed prairie dogs have suffered significant declines throughout the 20th Century because of poisoning campaigns, conversion of native prairie to agricultural land and plague. Historic records for white-tailed prairie dogs are poor but it is widely accepted that decline has happened. In 2002 white-tailed prairie dogs were petitioned to be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act but listing was denied in 2004. The US Fish & Wildlife Service revisited the potential listing of white-tailed prairie dogs in 2008 and in 2010 again decided against listing.


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.