Spring Prairie Dog Control Important
April 23, 2020
Courtesy PR Extension Office
Prairie dog control methods, though limited in the spring, are valuable because of the timing for optimum control of the litters, according to Extension Agent Mary Rumph.
Prairie dogs are social animals that live in towns of up to 1,000 acres or more. Larger towns are often divided into wards by barriers such as ridges, lines of trees, and roads. Within a ward, each family or “coterie” of prairie dogs occupies a territory of about 1 acre. A coterie usually consists of an adult male, one to four adult females and any of their off-spring less than 2 years old.
Black-tailed prairie dog towns typically have 30 to 50 burrow entrances per acre. Most burrow entrances lead to a tunnel that is 3 to 6 feet deep and about 15 feet long. Prairie dogs construct crater-and dome-shaped mounds up to 2 feet high and 10 feet in diameter. The mounds serve as lookout stations. They also prevent water from entering the tunnels and may enhance ventilation of the tunnels.
Black-tailed prairie dogs reach sexual maturity after their second winter and breed only once per year.
They can breed as early as January and as late as March, depending on latitude. The gestation period is about 34 days and litter sizes range from 1 to 6 pups. The young are born hairless, blind, and helpless. They remain underground for the first 6 weeks of their lives. The pups emerge from their dens during May or June and are weaned shortly thereafter. By the end of fall, they are nearly full grown. Survival of prairie dog pups is high and adults may live from 5-8 years.
Control options are limited during this time of year to toxicants and fumigants. The toxicants (zinc phosphide treated grain) are ineffective as long as there is green vegetation. It is best used in late summer. Aluminum phosphide is the most effective under current conditions because of the subsoil moisture. This is a “restricted use” product requiring a private applicator license and is dangerous to the applicator if not used properly. When used correctly, fumigation with phosphine gas can achieve control levels up to 97 percent with two treatments. Due to misapplication resulting in the death of children, many significant changes occurred in 2012 on the labels of all aluminum phosphide products when used as burrow fumigants for rodent control. For more information about using aluminum phosphide, refer to the Montana Department of Agriculture publication at MT.gov and search for prairie dog management or click the link on the Powder River Extension webpage. The information provided in that publication is extremely valuable and includes great photos of active and inactive burrows.
Treatment of abandoned burrows not only wastes time and money, it also endangers non-target species. Active burrows will have smooth openings and be in good repair. Often active burrows will have fresh feces nearby. In soft soils, you may even see tracks. Inactive burrows may have any combination of the following: spider webs, disheveled appearance and partial or complete collapse. Feathers and white-droppings scattered around the hole often signify the presence of a burrowing owl.