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The black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus
) historically inhabits the eastern third of Colorado. According to one estimate, black-tailed prairie dogs once covered seven million acres in Colorado.
They typically reside in areas below 6,000 feet, east of Colorado's foothills. The largest areas of active prairie dog colonies are located along the Front Range and in the south-central/southeastern portions of Colorado.
The decline of black-tailed prairie dog populations is related to several factors, including:
- sylvatic plague
- direct loss of habitat to urban/suburban development
- habitat fragmentation
- conversion of habitat to agricultural uses
- systematic poisoning
- recreational shooting
- inadequate regulatory mechanisms
Two of the most influential factors have been habitat fragmentation and the widespread occurrence of plague. Prairie dog populations have found it increasingly difficult to recover from plague events and repopulate suitable habitat. Habitat fragmentation hampers recovery of colonies by restricting recruitment, and may play a key role in the severity of epidemics.
The black-tailed prairie dog is a diurnal, burrowing rodent, almost 15 inches in length, including a 2½-inch, black-tipped tail. Unlike some other species within the genus Cynomys, black-tailed prairie dogs do not hibernate. They will, however, remain underground for several consecutive days during extremely cold weather. Black-tailed prairie dogs are highly social animals. They live in family groups, or coteries, which typically consist of a breeding adult male, one to four breeding adult females and their offspring younger than two years of age. With the emergence of young, coteries can number up to 40 individuals. The primary benefit of this colonial lifestyle is protection from predators: black-tailed prairie dogs have an elaborate communication system to warn others of the presence of danger, including both auditory and visual cues.