What is the Difference Between a Ground Squirrel and a Prairie Dog?
These rodents have remarkably similar colors. The ground squirrel has thirteen narrow stripes that alternate between seven dark brown stripes and six tan ones. The dark brown stripes usually contain tan spots, giving the ground squirrel an alternating dotted appearance. Prairie dogs, on the other hand, have five wide stripes that alternate between brown and tan. Despite their similar coloration, both ground squirrels and prairie dogs are different species.
Round-tailed ground squirrels hibernate through the winter months
The round-tailed ground squirrel is an arboreal animal that lives in low areas. It burrows into shrub and sand habitats, where the water content in the soil is high. In deserts, the ground squirrel becomes inactive during winter months and emerges from its burrow during the spring, when temperatures warm up. The species mates in late February or early March. Once the male has hibernated, the female gives birth to one or two young. The young then leave the burrow in early April and are weaned by early May. They spend many hours playing together with each other before returning to their burrow when temperatures start to rise.
Unlike many other species, the arctic ground squirrel also hibernates. This habit allows the animal to rest for about eight months during the winter. The arctic ground squirrel prefers to hibernate in a densely-covered burrow. The burrows are warmer than the burrows of other ground squirrels, and the female enters hibernation in August. Females enter hibernation a little later than the males, and the metabolic rate drops by approximately 33% during the winter months.
Prairie dogs kill interspecific competitors to increase fitness
A new study suggests that prairie dogs kill interspecific competitors to improve fitness. Although prairie dogs rarely feed on ground squirrels, they scavenge their carcasses and kill them. The dead squirrels are then scavenged by nearby birds. The study was led by biologist Charles Brown, who studied prairie dogs under Dr. Hoogland at Princeton University. But the reasoning behind IK isn’t completely clear.
Interestingly, prairie dogs kill ground squirrels because the diets of these two species are almost identical. The two species compete for the same six plants, which means that killing one would decrease the competition near the prairie dog’s home burrow. Prairie dog mothers can benefit from the increase in vegetation that these animals will provide their offspring. The ground squirrels also have high levels of fitness. The killing of these two species of rodents helps the prairie dog’s reproduction.
They graze down the area around their burrows
Prairie dogs and ground squirrels graze down the area surrounding their burrows and plow it under. The burrows of these species cover about 6 percent of their area, which means that they lose a minimal amount of forage to livestock. But some plant species flourish on these mounds, enhancing the diversity of the surrounding environment. So if you are concerned about the amount of forage lost to these animals, here are some methods that may help.
When the grass around the burrows of prairie dogs is mowed down, they are able to detect predators and see their prey. Consequently, prairie dogs are a major cause of erosion in wetlands and on farmland. However, if you have a prairie dog population in your neighborhood, you may want to prevent them from grazing on the grass near their burrows.
They are smaller than gophers
Although ground squirrels are smaller than prairie dogs, they are not necessarily less dangerous. Ground squirrels tend to live in burrows and live in communities of several hundred. Prairie dogs are more specialized and live in open grasslands. Both species have burrows, but gophers are more commonly found in prairies. Gophers can live in all types of habitats, including dry deserts. Prairie dogs are less common than ground squirrels, but they are equally deadly.
Some biologists believe that prairie dogs kill ground squirrels, but this doesn’t always happen. The species has been known to kill each other. Prairie dogs typically grab ground squirrels by the neck or chest and shake them violently until they die. This process causes the ground squirrel’s heart to puncture, breaking it. Prairie dogs also wait in ambush outside the ground squirrel’s burrow. They have also been known to chase and kill ground squirrel babies.
They live in colonies
Ground squirrels and prairie dogs are two species that live in colonies. These animals mate only once a year in early winter. During this period, female prairie dogs go into estrus, and they have litters of three to eight pups. Female prairie dogs nurse their offspring. They are social animals, and they live in tight groups called coteries. Females live in the same ward for life, and males tend to move from one coterie to another.
The black-tailed prairie dog is a cousin of the ground squirrel. Both are large and heavy-bodied. Their tails are tipped black and they have brownish-tan pelage. Their burrows are often left unoccupied by prairie dogs, so they are a valuable food source for other predators. The Black-footed prairie dog, for example, leaves vacant burrows for owls and Black-footed ferrets.
Jessica Watson is a PHD holder from the University of Washington. She studied behavior and interaction between squirrels and has presented her research in several wildlife conferences including TWS Annual Conference in Winnipeg.