Utah Prairie Dog description

Dorsal pelage of Cynomys leucurus is pinkish buff mixed with buff; Cynomys gunnisoni has grayish hairs in center of tail; C. ludovicianus has a black-tipped tail (Whitaker 1996).

Utah Prairie Dog habitats

The Great Basin shrub steppe is one of the ecoregions inhabited by the Utah prairie dog. The Great Basin shrub steppe ecoregion is situated in the most northerly of the four American deserts. Unlike the other three, which have almost exclusive ties to warm-temperate and tropical/subtropical vegetation types, the Great Basin has affinities with cold-temperate vegetation.

Dominant plant species in the region include such distinctly cold-temperate species as sagebrushes (Artemisia), saltbrushes (Atriplex), and Winter-fat (Ceratoides lanata). These scrub species are much-branched, non-sprouting, aromatic semi-shrubs with soft wood and evergreen leaves. The Great Basin also contains species with evolutionary ties to warmer climates, such as rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus), blackbrush (Coleogyne), hopsage (grayia) and horsebrush (Tetradymia). The region, however, contains few cacti species, either in numbers of individuals or species, and also lacks most characteristic desert plants in minor drainages.

Some other notable mammals found in the Great Basin ecoregion are: Belding's ground squirrel (Spermophilus beldingi); Yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris); Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis); Bushy-tailed woodrat (Neotoma cinerea); Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis); Canyon mouse (Peromyscus crinitus); Cliff chipmunk (Tamias dorsalis); Coyote (Canis latrans); Desert cottontail (Crotaphytus insularis); North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum).

Anuran taxa found in the Great Basin scrub steppe are eight in number: the Black toad (Anaxyrus exsul VU); Great Basin spadefoot toad (Spea intermontana); Northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens); Pacific treefrog (Pseudacris regilla); Northern red-legged frog (Rana aurora); Columbia spotted frog (Rana luteiventris); Southwestern toad (Anaxyrus microscaphus); and Woodhouse's toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii). The Tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinis) is the sole salamander found in this ecoregion.

The Great Basin holds numerous reptilian taxa: Bluntnose leopard lizard (Gambelia sila EN); Common kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula); Sierra gartersnake (Thamnophis couchii); Black-collared lizard (Crotaphytus insularis); Desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos); Desert spiny lizard (Sceloporus magister); Western gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer); Ground snake (Sonora semiannulata); Long-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia wislizenii); Long-nosed snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei); Milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum); Panamint alligator lizard (Elgaria panamintina), a California endemic found only in the following desert mountains: Panamint, Inyo, Nelson, White, Cosos and Argus; Yellow-bellied racer (Coluber constrictor); Ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus); Sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus graciosus); Pygmy short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma douglasii); Side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana); Striped whipsnake (Masticophis taeniatus); Western banded gecko (Coleonyx variegatus); Western patch-nosed snake (Salvadora hexalepis); Western pond turtle (Emys marmorata); Western terrestrial garter snake (Thamnophis elegans); Tiger whiptail (Cnemidophorus tigris); Zebra-tailed lizard (Callisaurus draconoides); Rubber boa (Charina bottae); and Night snake (Hypsiglena torquata).

A large number of bird species occur within the Great Basin, either as resident or migratory taxa. Example avian species found here are: Lewis's woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis); Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitans); Pinyon jay (Phainopepla nitans VU), a specialist found in pinyon-juniper woodlands; Greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus NT); Sandhill crane (Grus canadensis).

This taxon can be found in the Colorado Plateau shrublands, as one of its North American ecoregions of occurrence. The Plateau is an elevated, northward-tilted saucer landform, characterized by its high elevation and arid to semi-arid climate. Known for the Grand Canyon, it exhibits dramatic topographic relief through the erosive action of high-gradient, swift-flowing rivers that have downcut and incised the plateau. Approximately 90 percent of the plateau is drained by the Colorado River and its tributaries, notably the lower catchment of the Green River.

A pinyon-juniper zone is extensive, dominated by a pygmy forest of Pinyon pine (Pinus edulis) and several species of juniper (Juniperus spp). Between the trees the ground is sparsely covered by grama, other grasses, herbs, and various shrubs, such as Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) and Alder-leaf cercocarpus (Cercocarpus montanus).

A montane zone extends over large areas on the high plateaus and mountains, but is much smaller than the pinyon-juniper zone. The montane vegetation varies considerably, from Ponderosa pine in the south to Lodgepole pine and Aspen further north. Northern Arizona contains four distinct Douglas-fir habitat types. The lowest zone has arid grasslands but with many bare areas, as well as xeric shrubs and sagebrush. Several species of cacti and yucca are common at low elevations in the south.

Numerous mammalian species are found within the Colorado Plateau shrublands ecoregion, including the Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus); Long-eared chipmunk (Tamias quadrimaculatus); Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens EN); Yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris); and the Uinta chipmunk (Tamias umbrinus), a burrowing omnivore.

A large number of birds are seen in the ecoregion, with representative taxa: Chestnut-collared longspur (Calcarius ornatus NT); Greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus NT); Northern pygmy owl (Glaucidium gnoma); Cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus).

There are various snakes occurring within the Colorado Plateau, including: Black-necked garter snake (Thamnophis cyrtopsis), usually found in riparian zones; Plains Blackhead snake (Tantilla nigriceps); Black-tailed rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus), who seeks inactivity refuge in rock crevices, animal burrows and even woodrat houses. Other reptiles found here include the Common checkered whiptail (Cnemidophorus tesselatus).

There are only a limited number of anuran taxa on the Colorado Plateau; in fact, the comprehensive occcurrence list for the ecoregion is: Red-spotted toad (Anaxyrus punctatus); Canyon treefrog (Hyla arenicolor); Woodhouse's toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii); Couch's spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus couchii); Northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens); Plains spadefoot toad (Spea bombifrons); and Southwestern toad (Anaxyrus microscaphus). The Tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) is the sole salamander found on the Colorado Plateau shrublands.

The Colorado River fish fauna display distinctive adaptive radiations. The Humpback chub (Gila cypha), for example, is a highly specialized minnow that lives in the upper Colorado. It adapted to the water’s fast current and its extremes of temperature and flow rate. Dams and water diversion, however, have created a series of placid, stillwater lakes and side streams, and the Humpback chub may not be able to adapt to these altered conditions. The species, along with other native Colorado River fishes including the Bonytail (Gila elegans), Squawfish (Ptychocheilus lucius), and the Flannelmouth sucker (Catostomus latipinnis), may not survive much further in time.

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat consists of grasslands, in level mountain valleys, in areas with deep well-drained soil and vegetation that prairie dogs can see over or through. Prairie dogs dig underground burrow systems, in which the young are born.

They reproduce slowly, relative to other rodents (Hoogland 2001). Females produce only one litter per year, but the probability of weaning a litter each year is only 67% (Hoogland 2001). Although all females copulate as yearlings, only 49% of males do so (Hoogland 2001). For females that wean offspring, mean litter size at first emergence from the nursery burrow is 3.88 (Hoogland 2001). Mating occurs in March or April. Gestation lasts about one month. Young are born in late April or early May. Litter size is 2-10 (average 3-5); female produces one litter per year. Young emerge above ground at six weeks (late May to early June), weaned in about seven weeks, first breed at about two years.

Lives in colonies ("towns"). Colony structure is dynamic in size and location; social units within colony comprise a dominant male, several females, and the young of the past two years (Matthews and Moseley 1990). Survivorship in the first year is less than 50%; only 30% remain alive at the end of their second year (Hoogland 2001).

Feeds primarily on grasses, alfalfa, leafy aster, European glorybind, wild buckwheats in seed, flowers and seeds of shrubs, and insects when available; also may consume cattle faeces; generally prefers flowers and seeds over leaves. The species is inactive and torpid in severe winter conditions. Adults emerge and begin foraging from mid-March to early April, enter dormancy mid-July to mid-August; juveniles enter dormancy from early October to mid-November; low elevation colonies (below 7,000 ft) generally are two weeks earlier than higher elevation colonies (Spahr et al. 1991).

  • Terrestrial

Certain soil and vegetation characteristics must be met in order for Utah prairie dogs to establish a colony in a particular prairie. The area must be well-drained and have soil deep enough for protection against predators and for insulation during the winter. Cynomys parvidens must be able to dig one meter deep without getting wet. The vegetation must be low enough to allow the prairie dogs to scan the environment for predators. The range of Cynomys parividens is restricted by climate, physical, and biological barriers. The western region has higher temperatures and a drier climate and the tall grass restricts viewing of the surroundings. Mountains and deserts to the east, west and south may be impassible. Competiton with Uinta ground squirrel (Spermophilus armatus) probably limits expansion as well. (US Fish and Wildlife Service 1991).

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

Comments: Habitat consists of grasslands, in level mountain valleys, in areas with deep well-drained soil and vegetation that prairie dogs can see over or through. Prairie dogs dig underground burrow systems, in which the young are born.

Utah Prairie Dog size

Length: 39 cm

Sexual Dimorphism: Males are larger than females.

Average: 341 mm males; 319.7 mm females
Range: 299-370 mm males; 290-368 mm females

Average: 636 g males; 516 g females
Range: 460-1,250 g males; 410-790 g females

Utah Prairie Dog distributions

The species' range is restricted to an area of about 1,850 square kilometres in southern Utah in the United States. Prior to control programs, the range reportedly extended from Pine and Buckskin valleys in Beaver and Iron counties (perhaps west to Modena in Iron County), north to at least Salina Canyon and near Gunnison in Sevier County (possibly to Nephi), south to Bryce Canyon National Park, and east to the foothills of the Aquarius Plateau (Collier 1974, Pizzimenti and Collier 1975, McDonald 1997). More recently, this species occurred in substantial populations in only three areas: the Awapa Plateau, along the east fork of the Sevier River, and in eastern Iron County; the grass and Sevier river valleys, plus three small, widely separated mountain valleys have small populations (Collier 1974, Pizzimenti and Collier 1975). The species is scarce or absent in the Aquarius Plateau, Fremont and Paria valleys, and Salina Canyon (Collier 1974, Pizzimenti and Collier 1975). It occurs only in areas at elevations of 1,500 to 2,700 m asl.

North America - Southwest area of Utah. There are three main concentration of colonies: Awapa Plateau, East Fork and the main stem of the Sevier River and eastern Iron County. Cynomys parvidens is the westernmost member of the genus Cynomys .

(US Fish and Wildlife Service 1991).

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

endemic to a single state or province

Utah Prairie Dog Conservation Status

Red List Category

Red List Criteria


Year Assessed

Linzey, A.V., Rosmarino, N. & NatureServe (Willson, K., Roth, E., Hammerson, G. & Cannings, S.)

Amori, G. & Koprowski, J. (Small Nonvolant Mammal Red List Authority)


Listed as Endangered because its extent of occurrence is estimated to be only 1,850 km, and its area of occupancy is estimated to be only 28 km, and there is a continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat due to ongoing habitat destruction as well as the number of individuals due to persecution and outbreaks of the plague.

  • 2000
    Lower Risk/conservation dependent (LR/cd)
  • 1996
    Lower Risk/conservation dependent (LR/cd)
  • 1994
    Vulnerable (V)
  • 1990
    Vulnerable (V)
  • 1988
    Vulnerable (V)
  • 1986
    Vulnerable (V)
  • 1982
    Vulnerable (V)
  • 1965
    Less rare but believed to be threatened-requires watching

Cynomys parivdens was previously listed as endangered. The Utah prairie dog had become endangered due to several factors. These include diseases, poisoning, droughts, and habitat alterations for cultivation and grazing. Plague outbreaks occur when a colony is overpopulated and there is increased stress on the individuals. From 1972 to 1989 a transplant program was initiated to move Cynomys parvidens from private agricultural areas to pubilic land sites. This program proved successful and the species was reclassified to threatened in May, 1984. (US Fish and Wildlife Service 1991).

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N2 - Imperiled

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