Mexican Prairie Dog (Cynomys mexicanus)
Status of species: Federally listed as endangered
Distribution: Northeastern Mexico
The eyes of prairie dogs are close to the top of the head for better viewing of predators, even from inside a hole.
Photo by Elaine Miller Bond.
General Description: The Mexican prairie dog is a lesser known relative of the black-tailed prairie dog that also has a black-tipped tail. Mexican prairie dogs inhabit the short-grass and low elevation prairie of a small area in northeastern Mexico. Despite the rarity of all prairie dogs, it is the only Cynomys species that is actually listed as endangered. It is assumed to be among the most social of ground squirrels, and is the least studied prairie dog species. The lack of knowledge on behavior combined with the lack of protection for the areas in which it lives undoubtedly contributes to its continuing decline.
Behavior: A long-term study on the behavior and reproduction of Mexican prairie dogs is eagerly awaited. From what little is known, Mexican prairie dogs appear to live in a coterie and ward system that mimics their closest relatives (black-tailed prairie dogs). Kissing and sniffing between social members also occurs. While females bear a single litter each year, they may do so at any time from late winter to early summer, which is quite different from the compact breeding seasons of other prairie dog species. Gestation and weaning behavior appears similar to black-tails, but behavior after birth is completely unknown. Perhaps investigators will discover that infanticide in Mexican prairie dogs is rampant, like in black-tails. Unlike Gunnisonís, white-tailed, and Utah prairie dogs, Mexican prairie dogs do not hibernate. Instead, they store fat for the winter, and are active sporadically in cold weather.
Prairie dogs spend between one-fifth and one-half of their lives in vigilant postures looking for possible predators.
Photo by Elaine Miller Bond.
Mexican prairie dogs lived in huge aggregations, but elimination from poisoning and shooting has made large colonies rare or non-existent. The burrow system is similar to that of black-tails. Mexicans also scan for predators and give alarm calls during an attack, but this behavior has not been studied in depth.
Ecological Information: Mexican prairie dogs are herbivores. The soil in their colonies is smooth and covered in herbs and grasses. They are prey for coyotes, bobcats, badgers, and hawks. Contrary to popular belief, their role as vectors of bubonic plague is incidental to their existence and rare. Please see the site on black-tailed prairie dogs for more information.
Management Information: The Mexican prairie dog was listed as endangered in 1970. Therefore, it is illegal to kill a Mexican prairie dog ó at least on paper. However, Mexican prairie dogs do not exist within well-protected lands such as National Parks. Despite endangered-species status, the geographic range of Mexican prairie dogs appears to be declining. As with other species of prairie dog, the primary reasons for this include habitat fragmentation, introduced diseases, poisoning, and shooting.
- Graves, R.A. 2001. The prairie dog: Sentinel of the Plains. Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock.
- McCullough, D.A., and R.K. Chesser. 1987. Genetic-variation among populations of the Mexican prairie dog. Journal of Mammalogy 68:555-560.
- Mellink, E., and H. Madrigal. 1993. Ecology of Mexican prairie dogs (Cynomys mexicanus) in El Manantial, northeastern Mexico. Journal of Mammalogy 74:631-635.
- Pizzimenti, J.J., and L.R. McClenagham. 1974. Reproduction, growth and development, and behavior in the Mexican prairie dog, Cynomys mexicanus (Merriam). American Midland Naturalist 92:130-145.
- Porter, S.L. 1979. Microsporum-gypseum infection in 3 Mexican prairie dogs. Veterinary Medicine and Small Animal Clinician 74:71-73.
- Scott-Morales, L., E. Estrada, F. Chavez-Ramirez, and M. Cotera. 2004. Continued decline in geographic distribution of the Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus). Journal of Mammalogy 85:1095-1101.
- Trevino-Villarreal, J., W.E. Grant, and A. Cardona-Estrada. 1997. Characterization of soil texture in Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus) colonies. Texas Journal of Science 49:207-214.
- Trevino-Villarreal, J., and W.E. Grant. 1998. Geographic range of the endangered Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus). Journal of Mammalogy 79:1273-1287.
- Trevino-Villarreal, J., I.M. Berk, A. Aguirre, et al. 1998. Survey for sylvatic plague in the Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus). Southwestern Naturalist 43:147-154.
- Written by Theodore G. Manno (PhD student, Auburn University) and Elaine Miller Bond (http://elainebond.home.comcast.net)