Cynomys parvidensUtah prairie dog

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Geographic Range

North America - Southwest area of Utah. There are three main concentration of colonies: Awapa Plateau, East Fork and the main stem of the Sevier River and eastern Iron County. Cynomys parvidens is the westernmost member of the genus Cynomys .

(US Fish and Wildlife Service 1991).

Habitat

Certain soil and vegetation characteristics must be met in order for Utah prairie dogs to establish a colony in a particular prairie. The area must be well-drained and have soil deep enough for protection against predators and for insulation during the winter. Cynomys parvidens must be able to dig one meter deep without getting wet. The vegetation must be low enough to allow the prairie dogs to scan the environment for predators. The range of Cynomys parividens is restricted by climate, physical, and biological barriers. The western region has higher temperatures and a drier climate and the tall grass restricts viewing of the surroundings. Mountains and deserts to the east, west and south may be impassible. Competiton with Uinta ground squirrel (Spermophilus armatus) probably limits expansion as well. (US Fish and Wildlife Service 1991).

Physical Description

Utah prairie dogs are the smallest of all prairie dogs. The back is cinnamon in color and the tail is almost all white. The belly is also cinnamon but brighter than the back. The upper lip and chin are white and there are dark brown spots above and below the eyes. Females have five pairs of mammae. The first upper premolar is more strongly developed than in other Cynomys species and almost equal in size to the second premolar. Total length of the body is 305 to 360 mm. The tail length is 30 to 60 mm and the hind foot is 55 to 66 mm long. The ears are 12 to 16 mm long. (Parker 1990, US Fish and Wildlife Service 1991).

Reproduction

The gestation period lasts about 30 days and young are born in April. There are between 3 and 4 young per litter. Adult size is reached in October and adults become sexually mature when one year old. (US FIsh and Wildlife Service 1991).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual

Behavior

Cynomys parvidens are active during the day. They form colonies and dig extensive burrow systems underground. The young begin to appear above ground when they are 5 to 7 weeks old. Males stop coming above ground during August and September with females following a few weeks later. Juveniles continue surface activity for another one to two months before going below ground. Between November and February, Utah prairie dogs remain mostly underground, although they do not become completely dormant in the winter. Utah prairie dogs use dead vegetation for building nests in the burrows. Their main natural predators are badgers, coyotes, raptors and weasels. These predators probably have more impact on new colonies and expanding colonies than established colonies because the burrow system is less developed.

(Parker 1990, US Fish and Wildlife Service 1991).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Utah prairie dogs are mostly herbivorous. They prefer flowers and seeds over grass, however grass is available more often than seasonal flowers and seeds. Young leaves are preferred over old leaves and stems are rarely eaten. Young Utah prairie dogs prefer dead vegetation and cattle feces. Cynomys parvidens eat insects (cicadas) when available. (US Fish and Wildlife Service 1991).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Utah prairie dogs can cause serious crop and equipment damage in agricultural areas. (US Fish and Wildlife Service 1991).

Conservation Status

Cynomys parivdens was previously listed as endangered. The Utah prairie dog had become endangered due to several factors. These include diseases, poisoning, droughts, and habitat alterations for cultivation and grazing. Plague outbreaks occur when a colony is overpopulated and there is increased stress on the individuals. From 1972 to 1989 a transplant program was initiated to move Cynomys parvidens from private agricultural areas to pubilic land sites. This program proved successful and the species was reclassified to threatened in May, 1984. (US Fish and Wildlife Service 1991).

Other Comments

Utah prairie dogs shed twice a year. (US Fish and Wildlife Service 1991).

Contributors

Natasha Lie (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

References

Parker, Sybil. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals, Volume 3. 1990. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.

US Fish and Wildlife Service. Utah Prairie Dog Recovery Action Plan. 1991. Prepared in cooperation wih the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. US Fish and Wildlife Service, Denver, Colorado.