Nature's Lawn Mowers
March 15, 2005 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Prairie dogs (Quicktime clips), also known as sod poodles, are like preschoolers on the prairie with only squeak toys (Real audio) for communication. These historical, intelligent, social butterflies of the lowlands are the subject of old wives’ tales and a source for surreal, realistic, humorous, and sometimes kitschy artistic inspiration. They are newsworthy and Metafilter-worthy. They are both despised and loved. The fact that they are being hunted for sport is causing alarm, and their dwindling numbers are affecting the Great Plains as they are key to its survival.
posted by debralee (29 comments total)
Neat post. About a century ago, a prairie dog town found in Texas covered 25,000 square miles and contained over 400 million prairie dogs. America's current prairie dog population is less than 1% of what it once was.
posted by driveler at 10:57 AM on March 15, 2005

Just when I think I know everything about Prairie dogs... you go and blow my mind. Seriously, though, interesting stuff - there should be a special Animalianfilter just for spotlighting cool animals, like the kinkajou/sugar bear.

Has there ever been a post on passenger pigeons? I'd like to hear about those things too.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:08 AM on March 15, 2005

There used to be a really awesome zine called Animal Review.
posted by matildaben at 11:24 AM on March 15, 2005

Any mention anywhere that prairie dogs carry plague? You know, the Black Death?
posted by davy at 11:37 AM on March 15, 2005

Great post. Thanks!

My favorite line from those links (on the pdlover site):

An unsupervised prairie dog is an awesome instrument of destruction.
posted by bwilliams at 11:46 AM on March 15, 2005

Actually, davy, I don't think they do, at least not any more than rats or other fur bearing critter.

According to the CDC, any fur bearing mammal can be a host for a plague bearing flea, but people are much more likely to get the plague from a rat than a prairie dog.
posted by jlkr at 11:49 AM on March 15, 2005

I hear they like the bottle a little too much.
posted by LarryC at 12:11 PM on March 15, 2005

...any fur bearing mammal can be a host for a plague bearing flea, but people are much more likely to get the plague from a rat than a prairie dog.

Plague is endemic in prairie dog burrows, found all through the western and southwestern states. Like on the Navajo reservation, for example. So yes, those critters are *kY00t*, but they're diseased.

Black rats, the traditional plague-carriers, are also found in the warmer states, like in southern California where they're common in palm trees. And like prairie dogs, they also live in social burrows; any burrowing mammals, especially rodents, are easy prey for plague, because the fleas love it down there.

As to which rodent is more prevalent or has a higher rate of yersinia-infected flea infestation I can't say, but my point was not that no other animal carries plague, it was that in the U.S. the prairie dogs are very good at it. (The black-footed ferrets pay a high price for that.)

But yes, if only because black rats are more often found in populated areas (like L.A.) than prairie dogs, Americans are more likely to get bitten by an ex-rat flea than an ex-prairie-dog flea. Watch for that to change as suburbanization into the prairie dog's range extends.
posted by davy at 12:23 PM on March 15, 2005

I can attest to the love of liquor. Hope (a friend's now-deceased prairie pog) loved vodka and cranberry juice, fed to her from a straw. She didn't care for straight cranberry juice, and didn't want anything else mixed with her vodka.
posted by xena at 12:31 PM on March 15, 2005

A bought my AR15 Varminter, specifically for prairie dog hunting. They are so much fun to shoot. One second they are there, the next, they're gone in a red mist cloud.
posted by CCK at 12:57 PM on March 15, 2005

The wife and I have a prairie dog as a pet, and I can vouch for their amazing appetite for destruction.

When we moved into our new house, we had to "prairie dog proof" the area that he would roam around in(the family room).

The house is his burrow, and we're his family. Any threat to that must die. He's put significant puncture wounds in my sister, my mom, a pit bull dog, and smaller wounds to myself and my wife (someone else got him riled up and when we tryed to calm him down he attacked).

He's nearly 7 years old now. Easily twice as old as they live in the wild. He's a big part of our family and we love him dearly. They're very affectionate, too. But if we were to do it over again, we wouldn't get another. And we're not the type to give up on a pet because it's become a burden - we made a commitment and it stays until he dies.

We're probably abnormal though. We also have a cat that we give an IV to nightly(kidney failure - and the IV is a "lactated ringer" for those that care).
posted by lowfi at 12:57 PM on March 15, 2005

And CCK, I don't want to flag your post as offensive because you have a right to do this "hobby" - but yeah, it's offensive to me.

I'm not an animal activist, I'm not a tree hugging hippy either. But killing an animal just for the sport of it is rather sick. I have no problems with hunters. Do *something* with what you kill. Eat it, skin it, or make Jello out if it - just don't kill something just for the fun of it.

Oh, and if you said that to get a "rise" out of people, well, that's a little sick as well.
posted by lowfi at 1:04 PM on March 15, 2005

Where I come from prairie dogs are vermin. No different than rats and insects. It is necessary to keep the population under control for farmers and ranchers as the prairie dogs will soon eat them out of house and home otherwise. So while extremely enjoyable to kill, I am also doing a service. In fact some ranchers I know of make money by charging guys like myself a fee to be able to hunt the little vermin.
posted by CCK at 1:20 PM on March 15, 2005

They are so much fun to shoot. One second they are there, the next, they're gone in a red mist cloud.

Normally I'd just flag that comment and keep quiet, but gotta say: this is not the thread for that kind of comment. It's rude, gross, off-topic, and a frank troll.

And for what it's worth, I personally found it offensive.
posted by Specklet at 1:33 PM on March 15, 2005

This is exactly the thread for this type of comment. Or are you suggesting that only the "god, they sure are cute little creatures" viewpoint is valid here. What I do is neither illegal nor immoral. In fact the way I kill the vermin is definately more humane than poisoning or any other trap you could put out there.

On preview: I forgot to add that I kon't care at all how you feel about my posts.
posted by CCK at 1:50 PM on March 15, 2005

kon't= don't
posted by CCK at 1:51 PM on March 15, 2005

NWS link of prairie dog fun
posted by CCK at 1:58 PM on March 15, 2005

cck...they're pests and you are correct the "varminator" is a good way to get rid of them.

I admit that prairie dogs have a place and importance for natural prairie areas, but when they begin to take up land for other animals or overrun an area, they need to be dealt with.

I seem to remember some sort of human giant vacuum for humanely getting rid of the varmits...or was that a hoax...somebody surely posesses the googlefoo to find's quittin time for me.
posted by Numenorian at 2:01 PM on March 15, 2005

Ask and ye shall receive. The Prairie Dog Sucker 2000 (QuickTime)
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:15 PM on March 15, 2005

Holy crap, that Prairie Dog Sucker is awesome. I wonder if the little guys are really undamaged by the trip.

CCK I think you're right that where you are they are pests, like cane toads in Aus or zebra mussels in the great lakes, etc. But I still think your comment could have been a little more sensitive (or informative) for the people who don't know that.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:23 PM on March 15, 2005

I have shot a few prairie dogs in my youth, but to ahhh; define the process is a bit blunt.
Prarie dogs multiply fast. They can also strip away grasslands as their numbers increase.
Most cows have the brains to not break legs in holes in the ground; ergo the effectiveness of the grated cattle guards. The old rancher ethos of prarie dogs killing cattle is not true.

I think prarie dog extinction is about as relevant as worrying about norweigian rats disappearing from the
earth. Lawton, OK, has several protected colonies of hundreds in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Preserve. Rodents do not easily perish from the earth.

Poor land management by humans is doing more to violate the earth than any wild animal. All for the sake of a greener than green yard and man made ponds.

Oh, and for CCK... Over Christmas break I "varminated" a coyote that had brought down a few newborn calves; so I do understand what seems to be a necessity to some is an aberation to others. I never gave lot of thought to polite ways of discouraging the coyotes before I took action either. Tsk tsk!
posted by buzzman at 2:45 PM on March 15, 2005

To clarify: I don't think that legitimate pest control is an aberration. (Aside from the fact that if we weren't encroaching on their habitats, they wouldn't be a problem.) And no, I don't think that only "aww, look at the cute little rodents" viewpoint is valid here.

What I took umbrage with was the tone of your post. Had you posted your second comment first, I wouldn't have even blinked. Your first comment was a troll.
posted by Specklet at 3:23 PM on March 15, 2005

I flagged the post as offensive. I could have done without that mental picture. Also, hunting for food is one thing. Anyone that kills for pleasure needs to have his/her head examined.

I can appreciate the fact that prairie dogs are considered a pest in certain areas. In other areas they are considered pets.

If CCK had said "I hunt/kill prairie dogs for a living," it would have been fine.
posted by deborah at 3:31 PM on March 15, 2005

Wow - never heard of people keeping them as pets before this thread - here in Alberta the viewpoint is "vermin". I didn't know they carried the plague bearing flea - one of the Albertan "claims to fame" is that we are completely "rat free" - I gather even keeping rats as pets is not allowed.

As to the "Prairie Dog Sucker 2000", I've heard that it isn't all that humane - there is no internal padding in the tank... whoooosh, thunk! Probably the same effect as a bird flying into a window.

Plus - what do you do with them afterward? Take them to the local prairie dog preserve?
posted by jkaczor at 1:00 AM on March 16, 2005

>So while extremely enjoyable to kill, I am also doing a service.

Most apropos misplaced modifier ever.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:48 AM on March 16, 2005

It is interesting to see the objections to sport hunting as opposed to food hunting. Do you think it is any consolation to an animal that it is eaten after it is killed? Dead is dead. Humans enjoy killing, but most have empathy also. So if the reason for empathy can be rationalized away, killing can become enjoyable. Of course, this applies to the killing of people also (hence the popularity of 1st shooter video games).
Each person has their own point at which killing becomes OK, ranging from never, to ticks on a dog, to mice and vermin, to killing for food, to killing for sport... Each person thinks their own morals are best, those that have a higher threshold are overly emotional and those with a lower threshold are immoral (kind of like George Carlin's bit about driving, people driving slower than you are idiots, and people driving faster than you are maniacs).
posted by 445supermag at 10:45 AM on March 16, 2005

You have a very valid point 445supermag. We all have differences of opinion on the subject and mine is no more correct than yours.

The PD vacuum is real. That's probably how we got ours. And yes, there is often padding where they land. That doesn't prevent broken bones and such. Especially for the smaller ones.

There's plenty of reports available that state that PD colonies do very little damage to the ecosystem - especially for cattle. I could cite them, but I'm sure someone else could find an equal number that states the opposite. [shrug]

My general take on this is that it's blown out of proportion in both directions. They're not as good as the activists say, and not as bad as the ranchers claim. Since I have one as a pet I lean towards the activists. But I ask this of you: Contemplate the other side a bit.
posted by lowfi at 12:51 PM on March 16, 2005

I was going to go on here, but I won't. You can't change my opinion just as I can't change yours.

I'm sorry for participating in the the derail, debralee.
posted by deborah at 1:46 PM on March 16, 2005

Where I'm from they call 'em gophers
posted by raedyn at 2:20 PM on March 16, 2005

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