Most animals spend their limited five- to seven-year lives inside the boundaries of a single city. Many predators rely on prairie dogs as a source of food. Badgers, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, golden eagles, and numerous hawks wreak havoc. Snakes such as rattlesnakes and bullsnakes will occasionally feed on the young. Humans also kill prairie dogs for food or trade them with each other.
Prairie dogs live in colonies across North America. Each colony has a home range that usually includes several clearings in a bunchgrass meadow or open shrubland. The colony is led by a breeding pair of dogs who defend the colony against intruders and fight off other dogs trying to steal a colony territory. Breeding pairs usually have strong teeth and claws and will use these defenses to fight other dogs. If a breeding pair cannot be found, then another group of dogs will take charge of the colony.
Black-tailed prairie dogs used to be common throughout most of North America. They are now only found in small colonies on private land in South Dakota and Wyoming. The species is endangered because it can't compete with humans for space and food. Also, since it's easy prey for predators, there aren't many young surviving to maturity.
People used to eat prairie dogs but this practice is no longer popular because they contain high levels of calcium and vitamin D. However, these qualities make them valuable ingredients in medicines used to treat bone disorders in humans.
Prairie dogs are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. Roots, seeds, grass, and leafy plants are all eaten by them. Prairie dogs use a variety of tactics to protect their homes against predators. Hawks, coyotes, badgers, snakes, and eagles are common predators. However, because most snakes hunt from the ground, they are vulnerable to being bitten by alarmed or aggressive prairie dogs.
When threatened, a prairie dog will hiss, puff out its cheeks, and raise up on its hind legs with its front paws in the air. This behavior is called "posting." Posting is used as a warning signal to scare away any potential predators.
After posting, the prairie dog will scan its environment with its big eyes to see if there's anyone around. If not, it will drop back down to all fours and resume eating. Otherwise, it would have to spend a lot of time posting which could be tiring. The best defense is a strong offense. That's why prairie dogs will often bite at prey that threatens them. This doesn't always work (like when snakes are involved) but it's what protects them from being eaten.
Here's where things get interesting: research has shown that some snakes may actually seek out prey that signals it is willing to fight back. These snakes know that they can take advantage of human fear of snakes to escape attack.
Prairie dogs will be eaten by coyotes, which is a wonderful thing. Although prairie dogs are squirrels, they prefer to dig into the earth and make tunnels. Prairie dogs are shot by hunters and poisoned by ranchers, but they continue to thrive. There are more prairie dogs today than there was 20 years ago.
Coyotes are very efficient at finding food, and since prairie dogs are easy prey, this is what they use them for. It's good that coyotes eat prairie dogs because without these predators, the population of prairie dogs would be much higher. When coyotes eat prairie dogs, it helps keep the number of rodents who can cause damage to crops down and doesn't put excessive pressure on other animals who might not have enough resources available to them if too many were killed by coyotes.
Here is how a coyote hunts prairie dogs: First, the coyote finds a burrow full of sleeping prairie dogs. Without making a sound, it creeps up on its prey and strikes when it is almost instant death. The coyote then consumes the entire body, including the head and legs.
Although coyotes are known to eat other animals, such as rats, mice, and gerbils, most of their diet consists of insects and small birds.
Elk mortality is now attributed to seven predators: wolves, black bears, grizzly bears, coyotes, mountain lions, man, and, most crucially, weather. Elk corpses are utilized even when they die of famine. During severe winters, starvation may kill more elk than predators do.
An average of one-third of all calves born each year survive to reach maturity. Calves usually lose weight before they die. The cause of death for nearly 90% of all calves is starvation. When food is available, calves tend to eat as much as possible during the day and sleep at night. If there is no chance of finding better grazing, they will eat everything above their knees. The other cause of death is predators; predators attack both adults and calves. A predator's meal might be one calf or it could be a whole herd.
Predators are responsible for the extinction of several species of animals from Yellowstone. Mountain lion and wolf attacks are the main causes of death for captive-raised elk. In the early days of tourism, hunters would shoot elk on sight because they thought them pests since they were eating vegetation that should be growing near the roads. Today, hunting is done solely for conservation purposes. A permit must be obtained from the National Park Service before killing an elk within Yellowstone National Park boundaries.