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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

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).
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Description

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).
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Distribution

The Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus) is endemic to Mexico in a restricted range of approximately 500 km² in northwestern Mexico, in the states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and San Luis Potosi. Historically, they were also found in the state of Zacatecas. Currently, 74% of their range is found in Nuevo Leon, 24% in Coahuila, and only 2% in San Luis Potosi. Their distribution is limited to the north and west by the Sierra Madre Oriental, and to the south and east by semi-arid hills and grasslands. They have not been introduced anywhere else in the world.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Ceballos, G., E. Mellink, L. Hanebury. 1993. Distribution and conservation status of prairie dogs Cynomus mexicanus and Cynomys ludovicianus in Mexico. Biological Conservation, 63: 105-112.
  • Mead, J., R. White, A. Beaz, M. Hollenshead, S. Swift. 2010. Late Pleistocene (Rancholabrean) Cynomus (Rodentia, Sciuridae: prairie dog) from northwestern Sonora, Mexico. Quaternary International, 217: 138-142.
  • Trevino-Villareal, J., W. Grant. 1998. Geographic range of the endangered Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus). Journal of Mammalogy, 79/4: 1273-1287.
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Range Description

Cynomys mexicanus is endemic to north-central Mexico. It is found in the states of Coahuila and San Luis Potosi; it once also occurred in the states of Nuevo Leon and Zacatecas.
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Historic Range:
Mexico

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Range

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).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Mexican prairie dogs are one of the largest species in the Cynomys genus, only slightly smaller than black-tailed prairie dogs, from which they are hypothesized to have diverged from approximately 42,000 years ago. Adults range in mass from 300 to 900 grams in the spring, and 500 to 2000 grams in the fall. Their total length ranges from 385 to 440 millimeters. When standing, they reach a height of approximately 30 cm. Although males and females have similar coloration, males are about 15% larger than females. Individuals from the southern limits of their geographic range tend to be larger than those from northern areas. Similar to black-tailed prairie dogs, Mexican prairier dogs have two distinct coats, one during the summer and one with thick underfur during the winter. The distal half of the tail is black, which distinguishes them in appearance from most other species in the genus. Mexican prairie dogs have blunt noses and small mouse-like ears. They have five digits on each foot, and each digit has a thick, black, curved claw. They also have many black whiskers that can reach 3 cm in length. The pelage has a grizzled effect, as individual hairs covering its body have four bands of color: black at the proximal end, then white, red, and yellow at their tips. Their tail, which makes up more than 20% of their total body length, ranges from 83 to 115 mm, and has black hairs along the lateral margins as well as the tip. Unlike black-tailed prairie dogs and white-tailed prairie dogs, mexican prairie dogs do not have a black or dark brown line above the eyes.

Mexican prairie dogs molt two times a year. Their spring pelage, which is present by March or April, is characterized by a heavy coat with think underfur. They begin molting their spring coat in September. Their winter coat, which most individuals have in full by early November, contains dense underfur that helps retain heat. Each molting period lasts about two weeks, and unlike other members of the genus who shed anteriorly to posteriorly, Mexican prairie dogs shed irregularly and patchily.

Mexican prairie dogs have large auditory bullae, which allow them to hear sounds ranging from 29 to 26,000 Hz, with peak hearing occurring between 500 and 4000 Hz. They have triangular cheek teeth and broad nasals that are posteriorly truncated. Similar to other Cynomys species, they have wide zygomatic arches and well defined zygomatic processes. Their dental formula is I 1/1, C 0/0, P 1/1, M 3/3 (total = 20), and they have bright yellow upper incisors that contain grooves on the interior surfaces. Complete permanent dentition occurs in juveniles within 2 or 3 months after emerging from the burrow during their first year.

Range mass: 300 to 2000 g.

Range length: 385 to 440 mm.

Average length: 300 mm.

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

  • Ceballos-G., G., D. Wilson. 1985. Cynomys Mexicanus. Mammalian Species, 248: 1-3.
  • Feldhamer, G., B. Thompson, J. Chapman. 2003. Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Conservation. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Hoogland, J. 1995. The Blank-Tailed Prairie Dog: Social Life of a Burrowing Mammal. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
  • McCullough, D., R. Chesser. 1987. Genetic variation among populations of the Mexican prairie dog. Journal of Mammalogy, 68/3: 555-560.
  • Pizzimenti, J., L. McClenaghan Jr.. 1974. Reproduction, growth and development and behavior in the Mexican prairie dog, Cynomus mexicanus. American Midland Naturalist, 92/1: 130-145.
  • Slobodchikoff, C., B. Perla, J. Verdolin. 2009. Prairie Dogs: Communication and Community in an Animal Society. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
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Type Information

Type for Cynomys mexicanus Merriam, 1892
Catalog Number: USNM 26423
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Mammals
Sex/Stage: Male; Adult
Preparation: Skin; Skull
Collector(s): C. Streator
Year Collected: 1891
Locality: La Ventura, Coahuila, Mexico, North America
Elevation (m): 1707
  • Type: Merriam, C. H. 1892 Jul 27. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. 7: 157.
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Ecology

Habitat

Chihuahuan Desert Habitat

This taxon is found in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is one of the most biologically diverse arid regions on Earth. This ecoregion extends from within the United States south into Mexico. This desert is sheltered from the influence of other arid regions such as the Sonoran Desert by the large mountain ranges of the Sierra Madres. This isolation has allowed the evolution of many endemic species; most notable is the high number of endemic plants; in fact, there are a total of 653 vertebrate taxa recorded in the Chihuahuan Desert.  Moreover, this ecoregion also sustains some of the last extant populations of Mexican Prairie Dog, wild American Bison and Pronghorn Antelope.

The dominant plant species throughout the Chihuahuan Desert is Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata). Depending on diverse factors such as type of soil, altitude, and degree of slope, L. tridentata can occur in association with other species. More generally, an association between L. tridentata, American Tarbush (Flourensia cernua) and Viscid Acacia (Acacia neovernicosa) dominates the northernmost portion of the Chihuahuan Desert. The meridional portion is abundant in Yucca and Opuntia, and the southernmost portion is inhabited by Mexican Fire-barrel Cactus (Ferocactus pilosus) and Mojave Mound Cactus (Echinocereus polyacanthus). Herbaceous elements such as Gypsum Grama (Chondrosum ramosa), Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and Hairy Grama (Chondrosum hirsuta), among others, become dominant near the Sierra Madre Occidental. In western Coahuila State, Lecheguilla Agave (Agave lechuguilla), Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), Purple Prickly-pear (Opuntia macrocentra) and Rainbow Cactus (Echinocereus pectinatus) are the dominant vascular plants.

Because of its recent origin, few warm-blooded vertebrates are restricted to the Chihuahuan Desert scrub. However, the Chihuahuan Desert supports a large number of wide-ranging mammals, such as the Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana), Robust Cottontail (Sylvilagus robustus EN); Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus), Grey Fox (Unocyon cineroargentinus), Jaguar (Panthera onca), Collared Peccary or Javelina (Pecari tajacu), Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus auduboni), Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus), Kangaroo Rats (Dipodomys sp.), pocket mice (Perognathus spp.), Woodrats (Neotoma spp.) and Deer Mice (Peromyscus spp). With only 24 individuals recorded in the state of Chihuahua Antilocapra americana is one of the most highly endangered taxa that inhabits this desert. The ecoregion also contains a small wild population of the highly endangered American Bison (Bison bison) and scattered populations of the highly endangered Mexican Prairie Dog (Cynomys mexicanus), as well as the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus).

The Chihuahuan Desert herpetofauna typifies this ecoregion.Several lizard species are centered in the Chihuahuan Desert, and include the Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum); Texas Banded Gecko (Coleonyx brevis), often found under rocks in limestone foothills; Reticulate Gecko (C. reticulatus); Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus); several species of spiny lizards (Scelopoprus spp.); and the Western Marbled Whiptail (Cnemidophorus tigris marmoratus). Two other whiptails, the New Mexico Whiptail (C. neomexicanus) and the Common Checkered Whiptail (C. tesselatus) occur as all-female parthenogenic clone populations in select disturbed habitats.

Representative snakes include the Trans-Pecos Rat Snake (Bogertophis subocularis), Texas Blackhead Snake (Tantilla atriceps), and Sr (Masticophis taeniatus) and Neotropical Whipsnake (M. flagellum lineatus). Endemic turtles include the Bolsón Tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus), Coahuilan Box Turtle (Terrapene coahuila) and several species of softshell turtles. Some reptiles and amphibians restricted to the Madrean sky island habitats include the Ridgenose Rattlesnake (Crotalus willardi), Twin-spotted Rattlesnake (C. pricei), Northern Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira septentrionalis), Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus jarrovii), and Canyon Spotted Whiptail (Cnemidophorus burti).

There are thirty anuran species occurring in the Chihuahuan Desert: Chiricahua Leopard Frog (Rana chircahuaensis); Red Spotted Toad (Anaxyrus punctatus); American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus); Canyon Treefrog (Hyla arenicolor); Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans); Rio Grande Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus cystignathoides); Cliff Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus marnockii); Spotted Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus guttilatus); Tarahumara Barking Frog (Craugastor tarahumaraensis); Mexican Treefrog (Smilisca baudinii); Madrean Treefrog (Hyla eximia); Montezuma Leopard Frog (Lithobates montezumae); Brown's Leopard Frog (Lithobates brownorum); Yavapai Leopard Frog (Lithobates yavapaiensis); Western Barking Frog (Craugastor augusti); Mexican Cascade Frog (Lithobates pustulosus); Lowland Burrowing Frog (Smilisca fodiens); New Mexico Spadefoot (Spea multiplicata); Plains Spadefoot (Spea bombifrons); Pine Toad (Incilius occidentalis); Woodhouse's Toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii); Couch's Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus couchii); Plateau Toad (Anaxyrus compactilis); Texas Toad (Anaxyrus speciosus); Dwarf Toad (Incilius canaliferus); Great Plains Narrowmouth Toad (Gastrophryne olivacea); Great Plains Toad (Anaxyrus cognatus); Eastern Green Toad (Anaxyrus debilis); Gulf Coast Toad (Incilius valliceps); and Longfoot Chirping Toad (Eleutherodactylus longipes VU). The sole salamander occurring in the Chihuahuan Desert is the Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum).

Common bird species include the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), Merlin (Falco columbarius), Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), and the rare Zone-tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus). Geococcyx californianus), Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostra), Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata), Scott’s Oriole (Icterus parisorum), Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata), Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens), Worthen’s Sparrow (Spizella wortheni), and Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus). In addition, numerous raptors inhabit the Chihuahuan Desert and include the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) and the Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi).

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The Mexican prairie dog is found at elevations between 1600 and 2200 meters. The species is restricted to 6 large, arid grassland valleys and intermontane basins in Mexico, specifically the Mexican Plateau. These grasslands are found at the base of larger valleys and basins, and form one phase of a semi-arid shrub mosaic. They are strongly associated with outcrops of gypsum soils, which are of low productivity. The gypsum rock found in these soils originate from eroded marine sediments deposited during the Pleistocene. The habitat is commonly surrounded by arid scrub and contains short grasses typical of calcareous and gypsophyllum soils such as creeping muhly (Muhlenbergia repens) and burrograss (Scleropogon brevifolius). Mexican prairie dogs excavate exploratory burrows in rocky, sandy, and clay soils; however, very sandy soils are unfavorable for burrowing. They may be able to colonize or re-colonize former croplands if the soil composition provides good structural support and depth for burrowing. Prairie dogs of all species avoid steeply sloped areas due to decreased predator detection in these habitats. In addition, sloped environments are often very rocky and thus provide poor habitat for fossorial animals.

Range elevation: 1600 to 2200 m.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland

  • Scott-Morales, L., E. Estrada, F. Chavex-Ramirez, M. Cotera. 2004. Continued decline in geographic distribution of the Mexican prairie dog (Cynomyc mexicanus). Journal of Mammalogy, 85/6: 1095-1101.
  • Trevino-Villarreal, J., W. Grant, A. Cardona-Estrada. 1997. Characterization of soil texture in Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus) colonies. Texas Journal of Science, 49/3: 207-214.
  • Yeaton, R., J. Flores-Flores. 2006. Patterns of occurrence and abundance in colony complexes of the Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus) in productive and unproductive grasslands. Acta Zoologica Mexicana, 22/3: 107-130.
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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Prairie dogs generally occupy open grasslands in plains and plateaus. They are diurnal animals using elaborate burrow systems for shelter and protection against predators. They show a high degree of social organisation and form large colonies (towns) which often cover an area of 100 ha or more.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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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).
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Trophic Strategy

Prairie dogs are herbivorous, and population growth is directly affected and limited by forage availability. During periods of active plant growth, feeding efforts are focused on stems and leaves, but at other times focus on forbs, cacti, and yucca. Grasses dominate their diet during April and May, while forbs dominate during June, July, and August. Throughout the remainder of the year, their diet is an equal mix of both grasses and forbs. Overall, forbs account for nearly 60% of their annual diet, shrubs account for 14% to 17% annually, and grasses account for approximately 22%. This switch in diet may be due to the decrease in nutritional quality of grasses as they mature, and suggests that Mexican prairie dogs strive to maintain a high quality diet year round. Mexican prairie dogs are known to forage on Croton dioicus, Sphaeralcea angustifolia, Solanum elaeagnifolium, and Setaria leucophyla.

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )

  • Mellado, M., A. Olvera, A. Quero, G. Mendoza. 2005. Dietary overlap between prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus) and beef cattle in a desert rangeland of northern Mexico. Journal of Arid Environments, 62: 449-458.
  • Mellado, M., A. Olvera, A. Quero, G. Mendoza. 2005. Diets of prairie dogs, goats, and sheep on a desert rangeland. Rangeland Ecology Management, 58: 373-379.
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Associations

The Mexican prairie dog is considered a keystone species in the Mexican Plateau, helping to support an ecosystem full of predators, prey, insects, and plants. They have a significant impact on soil composition, excavating large burrow systems and creating strong bottom-up effects. Burrowing leads to aeration of the soil, cycling of nutrients, and changing the soil texture. By eating only certain plants and grazing, they play an active role in altering the diversity and abundance of local plant communities.

Cattle commonly use prairie dog habitat for grazing, and diet overlap between these two species has been documented, however, there is no evidence suggesting interspecific resource competition. Grazing by cattle may lead to soil erosion that can alter the gypsum surface and threaten prairie dog colonies. Dietary overlap and interspecific resource competition has been documented between Mexican prairie dogs and Audobon's cottontails, and dietary overlap (and possible competition) has been documented with sheep. Because Mexican prairie dogs are a keystone species, declining populations are resulting in a domino effect, which has caused other species to be threatened or endangered.

Mexican prairie dogs exhibit exceptionally low levels of parasitism. Other prairie dog species are host to protozoans, tapeworms, roundworms, and spiny-headed worms, so it possible that Mexican prairie dogs do as well. Mexican prairie dogs are known to host numerous species of parasitic arthropods, including fleas, lice, and ticks. Fleas are most common before the breeding season, and an individual may have up to 300. Autogrooming is often displayed with individuals scratching, biting or licking themselves to remove these parasites.

Ecosystem Impact: biodegradation ; soil aeration ; keystone species

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

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Mexican prairie dogs have a wide range of predators, both terrestrial and aerial. Terrestrial predators include gray foxes, bobcats, cougars, and a variety of rattlesnakes. Aerial predators include golden eagles, peregrine falcons, prairie falcons, and northern goshawks. Despite their many predators, Mexican prairie dogs appear to have high a survival rate and researchers rarely see predation occurring under natural conditions. Their colonial lifestyle likely increases their per-capita survival rate. Individuals crop local vegetation within the colony's habitat to about 30 centimeters tall. Decreased cover allows for earlier predator detection, and living in large social groups allows individuals to spend more time feeding rather than constantly scanning for predators.

Known Predators:

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication between Mexican prairie dogs is extensive, and occurs in three forms: vocal signals, visual signals and olfactory cues. Visually, the animal may wag its tail (tail-flagging), characterized by a raised tail with the tail fur piloerected, followed by a back and forth wag when a predator is nearby. Although it has not been documented in Mexican prairie dogs, some Cynomys species stand upright in an alert posture (i.e., posting), which allows them to see predators more easily and makes them visible to other prairie dogs in the local area. Mexican prairie dogs are known to drag their rump along the ground, which is thought to be a way of leaving olfactory marks from their anal glands.

Mexican prairie dogs perform a "greet-kiss" in which two prairie dogs in the same coterie open their mouths, and press their tongues together. This lasts only one or two seconds, after which the animals continue with their prior activities. This also occurs between members of different coteries, and after the kiss, the resident individual will chase the intruder out of the territory. They likely to have oral glands as well, which may help conspecifics identify each other during the greet-kiss. Greet-kissing occurs between two males, two females, or a male and a female, and between individuals of any age. This may help identify individuals based on taste or smell, as physical differences between individuals appear minor. It may also provide information about food the individual has been eating or may serve a function in the establishment or maintenance of the local hierarchical structure.

The most important communications that occur between prairie dogs are vocalizations. These calls are nearly indistinguishable from calls of their close relatives, the black-tailed prairie dogs, and include barks, snarls, growls, screams, and yips. Alarm calls sound similar to the bark of a small dog, which is how the prairie dog got its name. Alarm calls are used when a potential threat has been detected. Although calls do not change based on predator type (e.g., terrestrial vs. aerial), they increase in rate (i.e., barks per minute) when a predator is closer. Mexican prairie dogs have a repetitive single syllable bark, unlike those of black-tailed prairie dogs which consists of two syllables. One of the more common calls used by Mexican prairie dogs is known as a jump-yip call. When performing the jump-yip calls, an individual stands on its hind legs, reaches upward with its front legs, and emits a "yip" vocalization. This call is commonly repeated by nearby animals after hearing the initial call, and travels through all the prairie dogs in the area. This call is thought to serve as an all-clear signal when a predator leaves the territory, or as a warning signal when a predator is nearby. Tooth chattering also occurs during interactions with conspecifics, where the animal will click its incisors together emitting sounds that can be heard between 5 and 100 m away.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: mimicry ; duets ; choruses ; pheromones ; scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

The percentage of juveniles that survive at least one year is directly correlated with body mass upon emergence from the burrow. Juveniles with higher body mass have a better change of survival. Although the lifespan of Mexican prairie dogs has not been documented, male black-tailed prairie dogs do not live longer than 5 years, but females may live up to 8 years of age.

It has been suggested that sylvatic plague could be devastating to the survival of Mexican prairie dogs. Sylvatic plague is a serious infectious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is transmitted by the flea species Pulex simulans and Opisocrotis hirsutus. These flea species, both of which have been found on Mexican prairie dogs, can be transmitted by other rodents or predators. Surprisingly, no cases of sylvatic plague have been reported in Mexican prairie dogs.

  • Trevino-Villarreal, J., I. Berk, A. Aguirre, W. Grant. 1998. Survey for sylvatic plague in the Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus). The Southwestern Naturalist, 43/2: 147-154.
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Reproduction

Mexican prairie dogs are polygynous and commonly form groups of females that reside within their mother's territory resulting in large clans or colonies (i.e., matrilocal harems). Males give out a mating call that resembles an alarm call. If a female wishes to mate, it permits the approach of a sexually active male. Breeding takes place underground, and therefore little is known of copulation behavior in this species.

Mating System: polygynous

Mexican prairie dogs reproduce once per year, with litter sizes ranging from 1 to 6 pups and an average of 4. Gestation lasts 30 days, from early March to early April, after which altricial young are born pink, hairless, and blind. Skin pigmentation occurs after 12 days, and hair begins to develop after approximately 2 weeks. Young have full pelage by 3 to 4 weeks and their eyes open around 4 to 5 weeks after birth. Neonates weigh between 15 and 20 g, and the mean mass of juveniles upon emergence from their burrow varies inversely with litter size. Males are slightly heavier than females upon emergence, corresponding with the adult sexual dimorphism of the species. Juveniles reach adult weight at approximately 6 months of age. Pups are nursed for 40 to 50 days, and weaning typically occurs around 45 to 50 days after birth. Females have 8 mammae, unlike some Cynomys species, which have 10 (e.g., white-tailed prairie dog). Teats become elongate and swollen during late pregnancy and remain so until weaning is complete. Juveniles remain underground for 5 to 6 weeks, after which they emerge independent of parental care.

Both males and females may begin mating before one-year-old, however males typically wait until two years of age. Breeding season usually begins at the end of January and can extend into March, lasting about 90 days. Males begin producing sperm in December, just prior to the onset of breeding season, and discontinue sperm production in April. Males have a baculum, a penis bone found in most mammals that aids in intercourse, that averages 4.92 mm. The baculum is narrow at the base and broad at the distal end, which has 5 to 8 spines. Females become sexually active when their vulva becomes swollen and white. Estrus is very short, averaging 1 day in early March. Estrus of all females in a colony is asynchronous, which helps decrease intracolony competition for mates. Breeding season in Mexican prairie dogs is longer than in most other Cynomys species due to the climatic conditions of the Mexican Plateau where they are found. Decreased seasonality at lower latitudes allows for a longer breeding season, however, the the quality and abundance of food exhibits marginal variation between seasons.

Breeding interval: Mexican prairie dogs reproduce only once per year

Breeding season: Breeding season begins in January and ends in March

Range number of offspring: 1 to 6.

Average number of offspring: 4.

Average gestation period: 30 days.

Range weaning age: 40 to 50 days.

Range time to independence: 5 to 6 weeks.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous

Although responsibilities differ, both genders provide care to their young. Male and female Mexican prairie dogs allogroom, play with young, maintain burrows, and nest-build. Males are primarily responsible for territorial defense. Females nurse young for 40 to 50 days and weaning occurs at 45 to 50 days after birth. Juveniles remain underground for 5 to 6 weeks, after which they are fully independent and emerge from their burrows. Although infanticide is known to occur in white-tailed prairie dogs and Utah prairie dogs, there have been no known reports of infanticide occuring in Mexican prairie dogs.

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

  • Ceballos-G., G., D. Wilson. 1985. Cynomys Mexicanus. Mammalian Species, 248: 1-3.
  • Feldhamer, G., B. Thompson, J. Chapman. 2003. Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Conservation. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Hoogland, J. 1995. The Blank-Tailed Prairie Dog: Social Life of a Burrowing Mammal. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
  • Mellink, E., H. Madrigal. 1993. Ecology of Mexican prairie dogs, Cynomys mexcianus in El Manantial, northeastern Mexico. Journal of Mammalogy, 74/3: 631-635.
  • Pizzimenti, J., L. McClenaghan Jr.. 1974. Reproduction, growth and development and behavior in the Mexican prairie dog, Cynomus mexicanus. American Midland Naturalist, 92/1: 130-145.
  • Rioja-Paradela, T., L. Scott-Morales, M. Cotera-Correa, E. Estrada-Castillon. 1998. Reproduction and behavior of the Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus). The Southwestern Naturalist, 43/2: 147-154.
  • Slobodchikoff, C., B. Perla, J. Verdolin. 2009. Prairie Dogs: Communication and Community in an Animal Society. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Cynomys mexicanus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Humans have played a significant role in the decline of Cynomys mexicanus. Recreational shooting, modification of land for agricultural purposes, soil erosion by cattle herding, and eradication programs have all contributed to their declining numbers. Habitat destruction has caused resources to become limited, and the continued loss of grassland habitat prevents the recovery of the species. Habitat fragmentation and a small geographic range have resulted in Cynomys mexicanus being listed as endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). Over the past four decades, 62% of C. mexicanus habitat has been lost due to human impact. Population densities are lower in the southern extremities of their geographic range, which likely results in higher extinction rates in these areas. Transplantation of individuals from northern areas has been suggested to help with conservation, as natural recolonization alone will not reverse their endangered status. Cynomys mexicanus is fully protected by Mexican law, although it is only in Racho Los Angeles, Coahuila where any substantial protection is enforced.

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: appendix i

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered

  • Alvarez-Castaneda, S., I. Castro-Arellano, T. Lacher, E. Vazquez. 2010. "Cynomus mexicanus" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Treatened Species. Accessed November 05, 2010 at www.iucnredlist.org.
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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
B1ab(i,ii,iii,iv)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Álvarez-Castañeda, S.T., Castro-Arellano, I., Lacher, T. & Vázquez, E.

Reviewer/s
McKnight, M. (Global Mammal Assessment Team) & Amori, G. (Small Nonvolant Mammal Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
This species is listed as Endangered given that its extent of occurrence is less than 600 km2, its distribution is highly fragmented, and there is continuing decline in its extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, extent and quality of its habitat, and number of locations and subpopulations.

History
  • 1996
    Endangered
  • 1994
    Endangered
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Endangered
    (IUCN 1990)
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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: Mexico


Population detail:

Population location: Mexico
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Cynomys mexicanus , see its USFWS Species Profile

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Status

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

Population
This species is very rare.

Population Trend
Unknown
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Threats

Major Threats
The Mexican prairie dog is losing habitat to the expansion of agriculture and livestock farming. Many colonies have been exterminated through poisoning.

This species has lost at least 65% of its habitat, which has been converted for agriculture and other uses. It is considered extinct in Zapatecas, which represented 10% of its original range. San Luis de Potosi, representing 25% of its original range, has also been heavily converted to agriculture, and the extraction of water has dried up soils and grasslands.
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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).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
C. mexicanus is listed on Appendix I of CITES.
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Conservation

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).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

In the same way that the burrows of Mexican prairie dogs have positive impacts, they also cause an increase in calcification of surface soil which accelerates the process of erosion due to the increased amount of bare land. Farmers also believe that burrows cause livestock to stumble into openings and break their legs, although fractures of this type rarely occur.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Prairie dogs excavate large burrow systems, and this causes subsurface soil to mix with surface soil. This excavation can lead to increased porosity of the soil, therefore allowing water to penetrate deeper, and increase groundwater recharge. This in turn adds organic matter and nutrient salts to the soils, increasing benefits to the plants and organisms living in the soil, thus making them more abundant. Livestock commonly feed on these plants, and higher abundance translates to more food available and healthier livestock for farmers. This is contrary to popular belief that cattle compete with prairie dogs for food and the reason prairie dogs are considered pests to farmers, and often poisoned. In the past, Mexican prairie dogs were an important food source for Native Americans and European explorers, however this no longer occurs. Scientific interest in Mexican prairie dogs has increased due to the realization that their populations are declining. Prairie dogs of all species are important subjects in behavioral ecology, helping scientists understand social behavior in mammals, demography, alarm calling, and kin recognition.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; research and education

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Wikipedia

Mexican prairie dog

The Mexican prairie dog, Cynomys mexicanus, is a diurnal burrowing rodent native to Mexico. Treatment as an agricultural pest has led to its status as an endangered species. They are closely related to squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots.

Habitat and diet[edit]

These prairie dogs prefer to inhabit rock-free soil in plains with an altitude of 1600–2200 meters (5250–7200 ft). They are found in the regions of southern Coahuila and northern San Luis Potosi in northern Mexico, where they eat herbs and grasses native to the plains where they live. They acquire all of their water from these plants. Although mainly herbivores, they have been known to eat insects or (very rarely) each other.

Predators include coyotes, bobcats, eagles, hawks, badgers, snakes and weasels.

Life cycle and behavior[edit]

Northern prairie dogs hibernate and have a shorter mating season, which generally lasts from January to April. After one month's gestation, females give birth to one litter per year, an average of four hairless pups. They are born with eyes closed and use their tails as visual aids until they can see, about 40 days after birth. Weaning occurs during late May and early June, when yearlings may break away from the burrow. Pups leave their mothers by fall.

As they grow older, young play fighting games that involve biting, hissing, and tackling. They reach sexual maturity after one year, with a lifespan of 3–5 years; adults weigh about 1 kg (2.2 lb) and are 14-17 inches long, and males are larger than females. Their coloring is yellowish, with darker ears and a lighter belly.

Prairie dogs have one of the most sophisticated languages in the animal world—a system of high-pitched yips and barks—and can run up to 35 miles per hour (55 km/h). As a consequence, their defense mechanism is to sound the alarm and then get away quickly.

Social structure[edit]

Mexican prairie dogs live in excavated colonies, referred to as "towns", which they dig for shelter and protection. A typical town has a funnel-like entrance that slants down into a corridor up to 100 feet (30 m) long, with side chambers for storage and nesting.

Towns can contain hundreds of animals but generally have fewer than 50, with a single alpha male. Sometimes spotted ground squirrels or burrowing owls will share the burrow with its rightful owners.

Populations[edit]

Decline[edit]

In 1956, the Mexican prairie dog was reported as occurring in Coahuila, Nuevo León and San Luis Potosí. By the 1980s, it had disappeared from Nuevo León, and its complete range was less than 800 km² (310 sq mi). Viewed as a pest and an obstacle to agriculture and cattle raising, it was frequently poisoned, and became endangered in 1994. Mexican Prairie Dogs currently inhabit less than 4% of their former territory.

Conservation[edit]

The current habitat of Mexican prairie dogs is in the region known as El Tokio. These are the grasslands located in the convergence of the states of San Luis Potosí, Nuevo León and Coahuila. Conservation groups such as Pronatura Noreste and Profauna, with the help of donors, carry out conservation efforts for the protection of prairie dogs and associated species, such as shorebirds and birds of prey. Pronatura Noreste, as of February 2007, has signed conservation easements with ejidos and private owners for the protection of more than 42,000 acres (170 km²) of Mexican prairie-dog grasslands.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Álvarez-Castañeda, S. T., Castro-Arellano, I., Lacher, T. & Vázquez, E. (2008). Cynomys mexicanus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 6 January 2009.
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