Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus)

Also known as: Mexican prairie marmot
  
French: Chien De Prairie Du Mexique
Spanish: Perrito De Las Praderas, Perrito Llanero Mexicano
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderRodentia
FamilySciuridae
GenusCynomys (1)
SizeTotal length: 39 cm (2)
Tail length: 9 cm (2)
Male weight: 1.2 kg (2)
Female weight: 0.9 kg (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN A1cd) by the IUCN Red List 2003 (1) and listed under Appendix I of CITES (3).

Prairie dogs are highly social rodents that belong to the same family as squirrels. The Mexican prairie dog is the southernmost species of prairie dog (4). Both males and females are a light buff colour and the final half of the tail is black, allowing them to be easily distinguished from other species of prairie dog (5). A new coat is produced in winter that has a thick layer of underfur (5). Males are somewhat larger than females (5).

As the common name suggests, this species is endemic to Mexico (1). In 1956 it was reported to occur in south eastern Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and San Luis Portosi, reaching as far south as the north-eastern corner of Zacatecas. By the 1980s, however, the species was confined to a range of less than 800 km² in southern Coahuila and northern San Louis Portosi in northern Mexico (4).

Inhabits flat prairies and valleys between mountains at altitudes of 1600 to 2200 meters (4) (5). They seem to show a preference for areas of deep soils free of rocks, where herbs and grasses abound (5).

The Mexican prairie dog is a highly social species, occurring in large colonies that live in extensive burrow networks known as ‘towns’ (4). The size of these towns depends on the availability of habitat, but may contain hundreds of individuals. Most colonies at present contain fewer than 50 animals, as extensive areas of habitat do not remain (4). Each town contains just a single dominant male, several females and a number of generations of offspring (2) (5). The dirt excavated during construction of the burrow network is heaped up close to the entrance; this mound is used as a convenient lookout post (5). If a predator, such as a weasel, coyote or bird of prey, is spotted, an alarm call is given and the members of the colony can retreat to the safety of the burrow (5).

This species is active throughout the year and only during the day, with activity typically ceasing at around 3 pm each day (2). They feed on a range of herbs and grasses (2).

Females produce a single litter of around four pups once a year, at any time from late winter to summer (4) (5). The naked pups are born with their eyes closed, but develop fur by four weeks of age and their eyes open not long after. They are fully weaned at 40 to 50 days and reach adult size at five months of age (5).

The main threat facing this species has been loss of suitable habitat as a result of expansion of agriculture and livestock farming (1). As the species is often perceived as an agricultural pest, Mexican prairie dog towns have been exterminated by deliberate poisoning, despite the fact that the species is fully protected against deliberate killing by Mexican law (5). The species has also been hunted for food in the past (4).

The Mexican prairie dog is classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List 2003 and is protected against international trade by its listing under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (1) (3). Protecion de la Fauna Mexicana recently carried out a conservation project targeted at the Mexican prairie dog, funded by Fondo Mexicano para la Conservacion de la Naturaleza, Mexico. This project set aside 114 hectares of prairie dog colony to be protected and managed in ways that benefit the species. In parallel, an environmental education programme was carried out in the area to spread the word of the importance of the species and its perilous status. Essential research into pasture management techniques that are compatible with the survival of this species was undertaken during the project. The only hope for the survival of the Mexican prairie dog is that methods can be found to reconcile cattle-keeping and the native fauna of the area (6).

Animal Diversity Web- Mexican prairie dog:
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Cynomys_mexicanus.html

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List 2003 (March, 2004)
    http://www.redlist.org
  2. UNEP WCMC Species Data Sheets- Mexican prairie dog (March, 2004)
    http://www.unep-wcmc.org/index.html?http://www.unep-wcmc.org/species/data/species_sheets/mexprair.htm~main
  3. CITES Appendices (March, 2004)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Animal Info- Mexican prairie dog (March, 2004)
    http://www.animalinfo.org/species/rodent/cynomexi.htm
  5. Animal Diversity Web- Mexican prairie dog (March, 2004)
    http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Cynomys_mexicanus.html
  6. Eco Index- Conservation of prairie dog colonies (March, 2004)
    http://www.eco-index.org/search/results.cfm?projectID=387