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Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

White-tailed Prairie Dog - Cynomys leucurus

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Species of Concern

Global Rank: G4
State Rank: S1

Agency Status
USFWS:
USFS: SENSITIVE
BLM: SENSITIVE
FWP Conservation Tier: 1


 

External Links





 
General Description
White-tailed Prairie Dogs are medium-sized squirrel-like rodents and are smaller than the only other prairie dog found in Montana, the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludoviscianus). Adults weigh around 500 grams and males are about 36 centimeters long and females 31 centimeters long (Foresman 2012). The legs are short and the feet have well developed claws for digging. The tail is short and flattened and has a whitish tip. The back is a yellowish-buff mixed with black that becomes lighter on the belly. They also have distinctive brownish-black patches above the eyes and on the cheeks.

General Distribution
Montana Range

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Western Hemisphere Range

 


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 90

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density

Recency

 

(Records associated with a range of dates are excluded from time charts)



Migration
White-tailed Prairie Dogs are non-migratory. Juveniles disperse to other colonies or the periphery of their natal colony in September/October.

Habitat
Throughout their range, White-tailed Prairie Dogs inhabit xeric sites with mixed stands of shrubs and grasses. In Montana they inhabit these habitats dominated by two types of vegetation: areas with Gardener's saltbush (Atriplex gardneri) with lesser amounts of big sage, and areas with small-flowered marsh-elder (Iva axillaris) and winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata)(Flath and Paulick 1979). They live at higher elevations and in meadows with more diverse grass and herb cover than do Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (Wilson and Ruff 1999) and their range in Montana is at higher elevations than other areas across their distribution.

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at bmaxell@mt.gov or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
White-tailed Prairie Dogs feed primarily on forbs. Early spring diets in Colorado showed White-tailed Prairie Dogs fed heavily on sagebrush and saltbush, with a shift towards dandelions and goosefoot as these forbs became available (Foresman 2012). Food habits in Montana are probably similar.

Ecology
Colonies in Montana average 54 acres. They do not clip vegetation like Black-tailed Prairie Dogs. Maternity burrows are extensively excavated and can be identified by the presence of current accessory digging (Flath 1978, 1979).

Reproductive Characteristics
No specific reproductive information is available for Montana, however in other parts of their range breeding occurs shortly after female emergence from hibernation in late March and early April (Clark et al. 1971). Gestation requires about 30 days and young are born in late April and early May. Litter sizes range from 2 to 8 and average around 5 young (Flath 1979). One litter is produced annually. Juveniles appear above ground in early June, 5 to 7 weeks after birth. Both sexes breed as 1-year-olds.

Management
Prairie dogs in Montana are currently a species in need of management and as such, shooting of prairie dogs on public lands (excluding state school trust lands) is regulated. These lands are currently closed to shooting within the range of White-tailed Prairie Dogs. Please consult Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for the most current regulations concerning prairie dogs. White-tailed Prairie Dogs are managed under the Conservation Plan for Black-tailed and White-tailed Prairie Dogs in Montana (Montana Prairie Dog Working Group 2002). Please consult this plan for details concerning prairie dog management in Montana.

References
  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View WorldCat Record   View Online Publication
    • Clark, T. W., R. S. Hoffmann, and C. F. Nadler. 1971. Cynomys leucurus. Mammalian Species 7:1-4.
    • Flath, D. A. and R. K. Paulick. 1979. Mound characteristics of white-tailed prairie dog maternity burrows. American Midland Naturalist 102(2):395-398.
    • Flath, D. L. 1978. At home with the prairie dog. Montana Outdoors. 9(2):3-8.
    • Flath, D. L. 1979. Status of the white-tailed prairie dog in Montana. Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences 38:63-67.
    • Foresman, K. R. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 p.
    • Montana Prairie Dog Working Group. 2002. Conservation plan for black-tailed and white-tailed prairie dogs in Montana. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Helena MT. 51 p.
    • Wilson, D. E. and S. Ruff. 1999. The Smithsonian book of North American mammals. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 750 p.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View WorldCat Record   View Online Publication
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    • Bureau of Land Management. 1979?. Habitat management plan prairie dog ecosystems. USDI, BLM, Montana State Office. Wildlife Habitat Area MT-02-06-07-S1. 61 pp.
    • Burns, J.A., D. L. Flath and T. W. Clark. 1989. On the structure and function of white-tailed prairie dog burrows. Great Basin Naturalist 49:517-524.
    • Faunawest Wildlife Consultants. 1998. Status of the black-tailed and white-tailed prairie dog in Montana. Prepared for Montana Department of Fish, WIldlife & Parks.
    • Flath, Dennis L., 1979, Nongame species of special interest or concern: Mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes. January 1979.
    • Foresman, K. R. 2001. The wild mammals of Montana. American Society of Mammologists, Special Publication Number 12. Lawrence, KS. 278 p.
    • Goodwin, H. T. 1995. Pliocene-Pleistocene biogeographic history of prairie dogs, genus CYNOMYS (Sciuridae). Journal of Mammalogy 76:100-122.
    • Hoffmann, R. S. and D. L. Pattie. 1968. A guide to Montana mammals: identification, habitat, distribution, and abundance. University of Montana, Missoula. 133 p.
    • King. J. A. 1955. Social behaivor, social organization, and population dynamics in a black-tailed prairie dog town in the Black Hills of South Dakota. University of Michigan, Contributions from the Laboratory of Vertebrate Biology 67:1-123.
    • Linder, Rayond L., and Conrad N. Hillman, 1973, Proceedings of the Black-footed Ferret and Prairie Dog Workshop, September 4-6, 1973. Rapid City, South Dakota.
    • Oldemeyer, J.L., D.E. Biggins, B.J. Miller, and R. Crete, editors. 1993. Proc. of the symposium on the management of prairie dog complexes for the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret. U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv. Biol. Rep., No. 13. 96 pp.
    • Reid, F. 2006. Peterson Field Guide to Mammals of North America, 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston and New York, 608 pp.
    • Smith, R. E. 1958. Natural history of the prairie dog in Kansas. Kansas University. Museum of Natural History: Miscellaneous Publications Number 16. 36 p.
    • Thompson, L.S. 1982. Distribution of Montana amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Bozeman: Montana Audubon Council. 24 pp.
    • Tileston, J.V., and R.R. Lechleitner. 1966. Some comparisons of the black-tailed and white-tailed prairie dogs in north-central Colorado. Am. Midl. Nat. 75: 292-316.
  • Web Search Engines for Articles on "White-tailed Prairie Dog"
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Citation for data on this website:
White-tailed Prairie Dog — Cynomys leucurus.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on October 21, 2014, from http://FieldGuide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=AMAFB06020
 
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