Average lifespan in the wild: 3 to 4 years
Size: Head and body, 12 to 15 in (30 to 38 cm); Tail, 3 to 4 in (8 to 10 cm)
Weight: 2 to 4 lbs (1 to 2 kg)
Info From the hunters:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2aRMikQ6TY prairie dog hunting
These charismatic, rabbit-sized rodents live on North America’s prairies and open grasslands in only a fraction of their former numbers.
Prairie dogs live in underground burrows, extensive warrens of tunnels and chambers marked by many mounds of packed earth at their surface entrances. Burrows have defined nurseries, sleeping quarters, and even toilets. They also feature listening posts near exits, so animals can safely keep tabs on the movements of predators outside. Prairie dogs spend a lot of time building and rebuilding these dwellings. Other animals benefit from their labors. Burrows may be shared by snakes, burrowing owls, and even rare black-footed ferrets, which hunt prairie dogs in their own dwellings.
Family groups (a male, a few females, and their young) inhabit burrows and cooperate to share food, chase off other prairie dogs, and groom one another. These group members even greet one another with a prairie dog kiss or nuzzle! Young pups are very playful and can often been seen romping near their burrows.
Black-tailed prairie dogs, the best known of the five prairie dog species, live in larger communities called towns, which may contain many hundreds of animals. Typically they cover less than half a square mile (1.3 square kilometers), but historically they could be enormous. The largest recorded prairie dog town covered some 25,000 square miles (65,000 square kilometers). That Texas town was home to perhaps four hundred million prairie dogs!
Another prairie dog species, the white-tailed prairie dog, lives in the western mountains. These rodents do not gather in large towns but maintain more scattered burrows. All species hunker down in winter and burn the reserves of fat they have stored during more plentiful seasons. White-tails may hibernate for up to six months on their mountain plains, while their black-tailed cousins sometimes emerge to feed on especially warm days.
These large squirrels emerge from their burrows in daylight to forage and feed on grasses, roots, and seeds. They communicate with loud cries. A warning cry, for example, will send a town’s denizens hustling to their holes at the approach of a badger, coyote, or other predator. A second, “all-clear” call alerts the community when the danger has passed.
Much of the Great Plains has been converted to farming or pastureland, and prairie dogs are not often welcome in such places. Because of their destructive landscaping, they are often killed as pests. During the 20th century, about 98 percent of all prairie dogs were exterminated, and their range has shrunk to perhaps five percent of its historic spread.
Bandit-masked raccoons are a familiar sight just about everywhere, because they will eat just about anything. These ubiquitous mammals are found in forests, marshes, prairies, and even in cities. They are adaptable, and use their dexterous front paws and long fingers to find and feast on a wide variety of fare.
In the natural world, raccoons snare a lot of their meals in the water. These nocturnal foragers use lightning-quick paws to grab crayfish, frogs, and other aquatic creatures. On land, they pluck mice and insects from their hidey-holes and raid nests for tasty eggs.
Raccoons also eat fruit and plants—including those grown in human gardens and farms. They will even open garbage cans to dine on the contents.
These ring-tailed animals are equally opportunistic when it comes to choosing a denning site. They may inhabit a tree hole, fallen log, or a house’s attic. Females have one to seven cubs in early summer. The young raccoons often spend the first two months or so of their lives high in a tree hole. Later, mother and children move to the ground when the cubs begin to explore on their own.
Raccoons in the northern parts of their range gorge themselves in spring and summer to store up body fat. They then spend much of the winter asleep in a den. There are six other species of raccoons, in addition to the familiar northern (North American) raccoon. Most other species live on tropical islands.
Squirrels are familiar to almost everyone. More than 200 squirrel species live all over the world, with the notable exception of Australia.
The tiniest squirrel is the aptly named African pygmy squirrel—only five inches (thirteen centimeters) long from nose to tail. Others reach sizes shocking to those who are only familiar with common tree squirrels. The Indian giant squirrel is three feet (almost a meter) long.
Like other rodents, squirrels have four front teeth that never stop growing so they don’t wear down from the constant gnawing. Tree squirrels are the types most commonly recognized, often seen gracefully scampering and leaping from branch to branch. Other species are ground squirrels that live in burrow or tunnel systems, where some hibernate during the winter season.
Ground squirrels eat nuts, leaves, roots, seeds, and other plants. They also catch and eat small animals, such as insects and caterpillars. These small mammals must always be wary of predators because they are tasty morsels with few natural defenses, save flight. Sometimes groups of ground squirrels work together to warn each other of approaching danger with a whistling call.
Tree squirrels are commonly seen everywhere from woodlands to city parks. Though they are terrific climbers, these squirrels do come to the ground in search of fare such as nuts, acorns, berries, and flowers. They also eat bark, eggs, or baby birds. Tree sap is a delicacy to some species.
Flying squirrels are a third, adaptable type of squirrel. They live something like birds do, in nests or tree holes, and although they do not fly, they can really move across the sky. Flying squirrels glide, extending their arms and legs and coasting through the air from one tree to another. Flaps of skin connecting limbs to body provide a winglike surface. These gliding leaps can exceed 150 feet (46 meters). Flying squirrels eat nuts and fruit, but also catch insects and even baby birds.
Whether they dwell high in a tree or in an underground burrow, female squirrels typically give birth to two to eight offspring. Babies are blind and totally dependent on their mothers for two or three months. Mothers may have several litters in a year, so most squirrel populations are robust.