Prairie dogs are burrowing rodents that are native to the grasslands of North America. They are social animals and form colonies, or “towns,” that can contain hundreds or even thousands of individuals. Prairie dogs play an important role in their ecosystem by providing habitats for other species and helping to maintain soil structure and vegetation diversity.
However, in residential areas, prairie dogs can cause significant damage to lawns, gardens, and landscapes. Their extensive burrows can undermine building foundations, disrupt irrigation systems, and cause other problems. Prairie dogs are also known to consume and damage crops, ornamental plants, and other vegetation. In addition, their burrows can create tripping hazards, and their digging can lead to soil erosion and runoff.
- Mounds of soil around burrow openings, often with a diameter of 2-3 feet
- Extensive digging and soil disturbance, with burrows often reaching depths of 6-8 feet
- Uprooted or damaged plants and crops, especially in areas near burrow openings
- Loss of soil moisture due to burrow ventilation, leading to dry or compacted soil
- Injured or dead animals, such as birds or small mammals, due to burrow collapse or entrapment
- Increased presence of other wildlife, such as snakes or badgers, attracted to the prairie dog colony for food or shelter
- Soil erosion and runoff caused by the removal of vegetation and the creation of bare soil in the burrow areas.
What is a Prairie Dog
- Small, stocky, ground-dwelling rodent, typically weighing between 2 to 4 pounds
- Brown to tan fur, sometimes with black and white markings on the legs, tail, and face
- Short, bushy tail that is used for balance and communication
- Pointed face and ears that are highly expressive and used to signal alarm or friendly greeting
- Adults range in size from 12 to 16 inches in length, including tail
- Front legs are shorter than hind legs, giving them a distinctive, hunched posture when standing
- Wide, rounded body shape, with a thick neck and short, sturdy legs
- Large, sharp front teeth used for digging and gnawing
- Active during the day and primarily feed on grasses, forbs, and other vegetation.
Treating a Prairie Dog Infestation
- Modifying the landscape to make it less attractive to prairie dogs, such as planting dense vegetation or installing physical barriers, such as fences or walls. The goal is to create an environment that is less hospitable to prairie dogs, reducing their interest in colonizing the area.
- Adding rocks, mulch, or other materials around plants and crops to deter digging and burrowing. These materials can make it more difficult for prairie dogs to access the soil and disrupt the garden.
- Providing alternative food sources away from the garden to encourage prairie dogs to forage elsewhere. This may include planting native grasses or forbs, providing bird feeders, or installing bird baths.
- Using taste repellents, such as hot sauce or vinegar, on plants and crops to deter prairie dogs from feeding on them. These substances can make the plants unpalatable or even toxic to prairie dogs, reducing their interest in feeding on them.
- Spraying odor repellents, such as ammonia or mothballs, around the perimeter of the garden to discourage prairie dogs from entering the area. The strong and unpleasant odors can make the area less appealing to prairie dogs and reduce their activity in the area.
- Installing physical barriers, such as fences or walls, around the garden to keep prairie dogs out. Fences should be buried at least 6-8 inches below ground level to prevent digging and burrowing.
- Using mesh or hardware cloth to line the bottom of raised beds or containers to prevent digging and burrowing. This can help to protect plants and crops from damage and reduce soil erosion and runoff.
- Covering garden beds and crops with bird netting or other protective coverings to prevent damage. This can help to prevent prairie dogs from accessing the plants and feeding on them.
- Setting live traps in the area to capture prairie dogs and relocate them to a more appropriate habitat. Trapping is a humane and effective way to remove prairie dogs from a garden, but it may require multiple trips to trap all of the animals in a colony.
- Checking traps regularly and removing trapped animals promptly to minimize stress and injury. Trapped prairie dogs should be released in a suitable habitat, far from populated areas, as soon as possible.
- Using lethal methods, such as poison baits or fumigants, to kill prairie dogs in the area. This method should only be used as a last resort and only under the guidance of a wildlife expert or local wildlife agency. The use of poison baits or fumigants can be dangerous to other wildlife, pets, and humans, and should only be used by trained professionals.
- Lethal methods should always be used in accordance with local wildlife laws and regulations, which vary by state and jurisdiction.