Why Do Prairie Dogs Kill Squirrels? [Are They Ice Cold Killers?]

why do prairie dogs kill squirrels

Do you know why prairie dogs kill squirrels? Some people believe that prairie dogs are cold-blooded killers, while others think there may be another reason for the killings. However, there are several reasons why prairie dogs kill squirrels, and it’s not because squirrel meat is on the menu.

According to National Geographic, the white-tailed prairie dogs will hunt and kill the Wyoming ground squirrel because it sees it as competition for food. Both rodents are herbivores, and their diets mainly consist of grasses, forbs, and seeds. The white-tailed prairie dog will also kill the Wyoming ground squirrel for its territory and to improve its reproductive success.

To better understand why these rodents don’t get along, you first need to know a little about their habitats, diets, and reproduction behaviors. 

We’ll take a closer look at the prairie dog and the Wyoming ground squirrel and see what sets them apart.

What Is A Prairie Dog?

A prairie dog is a type of rodent that is native to North America. There are five species of prairie dogs, and they are all a part of the squirrel (Sciuridae) family. 

They are social animals that live in underground colonies or “towns.” These towns can cover immense land areas, sometimes up to several thousand acres. 

The largest prairie dog colony recorded to date encompassed 25,000 square miles, larger than the state of Virginia!

Within these towns, there is a hierarchy among the prairie dogs. There is a dominant male, several females, and their offspring. The dominant male will mate with the females and defend the colony from predators and other males.

What Is A Wyoming Ground Squirrel?

The Wyoming ground squirrel used to be called the “Richardson’s ground squirrel” until DNA testing revealed unique differences between the two rodents. Like the prairie dogs, it is a member of the squirrel (Sciuridae) family.

These small mammals are found in the western United States, specifically in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. 

The Wyoming adult ground squirrel averages 9-14 ounces and can grow up to 15 inches in length.

Its fur is a brownish smoke-gray color, with a light-colored belly. The Wyoming ground squirrel has a white-tipped tail about half the length of its body. 

It is often mistaken for a prairie dog, and it has been nicknamed the “high mountain prairie dog.”

A Wyoming ground squirrel’s habitat consists of underground burrows built underneath rocks, logs, trees, or other structures that protect them from predators.

These rodents will even build their habit inside abandoned prairie dog tunnels. Making them the perfect tenant for a prairie dog turned killer.

Wyoming ground squirrels are loners and do not live in colonies or towns like their prairie dog cousins. Instead, the squirrels live alone or in pairs.

Both small mammals are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day and sleep at night.

4 Reasons Prairie Dogs Kill The Wyoming Ground Squirrel?

Now that you understand the differences between these two rodents, let’s look at why the white-tailed prairie dog kills them.

#1 Diet

One of the biggest reasons animals kill each other is food. Both animals are herbivores, and their diets are similar.

It is speculated that the prairie dogs see the smaller rodents as competition for food and kill them to reduce the competition. Also, with fewer squirrels, the prairie dogs have a better chance of getting the food they need to survive.

#2 To Improve Reproduction Success

They also give birth to litters of young around the same time of year, in the early spring after hibernation.

A prairie dog will have 2 – 8 pups per litter, while a Wyoming ground squirrel will have 4 – 8. When a baby is born, both animals have more mouths to feed.

This puts even more pressure on the food supply, furthering the prairie dogs’ reason to kill.

Most of the squirrel killing occurs in May when the young squirrels emerge from their nests. Both adult male and female prairie dogs make the killing, but the females keep watch of the colonies.

Statistics show that the offspring survival rate for the killers’ colony was higher than those of the non-killer colonies. 

The increased survival rate is due to the fact that the prairie dogs had more to eat once they eliminated the ground squirrels.

#3 Habitat

Another reason for the killings is habitat encroachment. As development projects expand into prairie dog territory, the rodents are forced out of their homes.

Prairie dogs will often build their burrows near Wyoming ground squirrels’ nests. This puts the two animals in close proximity.  

Prairie dogs are territorial animals that protect their burrows and colonies from intruders.

If a Wyoming ground squirrel wanders into a prairie dog colony, the prairie dogs may kill it to keep it from taking up residence and competing for food.

#4 Just Because

While most colonies kill ground squirrels when they see them as competitors, some scientists have noticed that the killing behavior has evolved to killing for sport.

In these colonies, the prairie dogs will kill a ground squirrel even if there is no food shortage or threat to their territory. 

It is speculated that the prairie dogs in these colonies do it for fun, sport or practice.

Whatever the reason, it seems that some prairie dog populations have developed a taste for blood and aren’t afraid to show it.

Prairie dogs aren’t the only animals that kill for sport. Many primates and large cats do as well. 

It is a natural behavior exhibited in the animal kingdom.

Do Prairie Dogs Eat Wyoming Ground Squirrels?

As mentioned above, prairie dogs are herbivores whose diet consists primarily of grasses and other plants. However, they will also eat small insects, such as crickets, grasshoppers, and crickets, especially in the spring when food is scarce.

According to National Geographic, white-tailed prairie dogs don’t eat their kills. That said, it’s not uncommon for them to nibble on their brains or gnaw on their chest, to make sure they are dead. 

Then they abandon the carcass for other scavengers to eat. Scavengers such as vultures are effective at removing pathogens and toxins, which helps improve the stability of the ecosystem. 

Do Ground Squirrels Kill Prairie Dogs?

Ground squirrels do not kill prairie dogs, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have the same common predators. Both rodents are susceptible to the same predators, such as; coyotes, badgers, weasels, eagles, foxes, and the black-footed ferret.

Since both rodents live in underground burrows, they are susceptible to attacks from burrowing owls and rattlesnakes, both of which use abandoned prairie dog burrows as their habitat.

Other Predators Of The Wyoming Ground Squirrel

Unfortunately, the small rodent is also prey for several other animals. Some of the predators of the Wyoming ground squirrel include:

  • Badgers
  • Birds of prey
  • Coyotes
  • Foxes
  • Bobcats
  • Weasels

Ground squirrels have many predators, but their biggest threat comes from humans. These animals are considered pests by farmers and ranchers, who will often kill them to protect their crops.

In some states, such as Colorado, residents harvest them year-round without a hunting limit.

Do All Prairie Dogs Kill Squirrels?

There are five species of prairie dogs; white-tailed, Gunnison’s, Black-tailed, and Mexican prairie dogs. All four species are territorial and will defend their colonies. 

However, the white-tailed prairie dog is the most likely to kill ground squirrels. 

The white-tailed prairie dog is the largest of the four species and can weigh up to 4 pounds. It is also the most aggressive, which may be why it is more likely to kill squirrels.

Final Word

The White-tailed prairie dog kills squirrels because they see them as competitors for food, habitat, and sport. In addition, prairie dogs are territorial and protect their colonies from intruders.

Ground squirrels are not known to kill prairie dogs but have the same common predators.

Unfortunately, humans are the biggest threat to ground squirrels, as they are considered pests by farmers and ranchers. Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the behavior of these two animals a little better.

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