One of the most iconic animals of southern Utah is the Utah Prairie Dog. The Utah Prairie Dog is about 10-14 inches long and loves the short grass and meadows of Utah. He is fat with a less broadly shaped head than the more common Black Tailed Prairie Dog. The Utah Prairie Dog’s fur is a mixed color of black and several shades of brown and reddish-brown. They have a short tail with a white tip and have a black stripe above each eye that looks something like a black eyebrow. The Prairie Dog is not in any manner related to the canine; but is a poerterly rodent who earned his name through his high-pitched barking sound that he uses as a means of warning his fellow Prairie Dog. The Utah Prairie Dog is the Prairie Dog that lives the closest to the Pacific Ocean- with most other types of Prairie Dogs residing in the Midwest.
The Utah Prairie Dog makes use of a rather elaborate tunnel system to build a sophisticated “Town” in which the entire society of Prairie Dogs will reside. At one point in history, these “Towns” would cover many square miles and would contain millions of inhabitants. Today, however, due to the settling of his historic ranges, the Utah Prairie Dog (or any species of Prairie Dog) is not seen in those numbers. The “towns” are the Utah Prairie Dogs shelter from weather as well as from such predators as coyotes, hawks, falcons and eagles. While the tunnels are an excellent means of escape from such predators as these, they are no help at all when it comes to an attack from a badger, a rattlesnake or a weasel. In order to keep the town safe from these predators, the Utah Prairie Dogs will take turns keeping a 24 hour watch. Whenever potential danger is spotted by the lookout, he will give his signature bark to warn the entire colony. Once the danger has been signaled, most of the Prairie Dogs will retret as best as they can into their burrows while a few others will go tease the predator by attempting to draw its attention from one prairie dog to another and keep him from focusing on any one victim in particular.
Unlike most Prairie Dogs, the Utah Prairie Dog hibernates in the winter. In early March (which is still plenty cold in Utah) the males will become active and towards the end of March the females will awaken from their hibernation as well. Early April is the Utah Prairie Dog’s mating season and about 28 days of pregnancy will bring about the birth of a litter of Utah Prairie Dogs consisting of 1-8 young. The young (called “pups”) will be fully grown by October and ready to have pups of their own when they are a year old.
The best place for you to see a Utah Prairie Dog is at Bryce Canyon, particularly at the Northern Border where one of their towns is. Be sure to keep your distance as the Utah Prairie Dog is a common carrier of the Plague. Not only could you contract the Plague from being bitten by a Utah Prairie Dog, but you could easily contract the Plague by being bitten by a flea that jumps off the Utah Prairie Dog and onto you (and these fleas can jump about 10 feet at once!). The Plague, along with human settlement, is the primary reason for the Prairie Dog’s reduction in population- and it naturally receives the disease from the fleas, which are given to the Pairie Dog many times by the Northern Grasshopper Mouse.