Okay, okay. So we all know it’s actually a relative of the prairie dog that gets all the fame and glory right about now. Still we thought the holiday was a good reason to call Theodore Roosevelt National Park and check on the prairie dog colonies there and, more importantly, if they’re paying attention to their shadows.
Rangers at TR National Park say the mild temperatures this winter have meant our prairie dogs have been very active, especially on sunny days. Unlike the groundhog, prairie dogs do not hibernate. They go into what’s called a “winter sleep” allowing them to continue to burrow and eat during the winter and also scamper on those sunny days.
In the South Unit, the scenic drive loop passes through three large prairie dog towns. In the North Unit, no dog towns can be seen from the road but there is a one-mile hike from the Caprock-Coulee parking area toward a town. There are an abundance of wildlife viewing opportunities in the Park and information about prairie dogs and other watchable wildlife is shared online.
In addition to not hibernating, prairie dogs differ from their larger cousins in another way: groundhogs prefer to live on their own while prairie dogs connect their burrows to huge colonies. The colonies in Theodore Roosevelt National Park collectively span 11,000 acres!
Another great place to see the rare black-tailed prairie dog is at Fort Stevenson State Park, on the north shore of Lake Sakakawea. There is signage directing visitors to the prairie dog colony and explaining a bit about them. Sully Creek State Park near Medora, has a colony right outside the park. Colonies can also be found on private land, mostly in south central and western North Dakota.
So that one question remains – do prairie dogs pay attention to their shadows and predict the length of winter? We invite you to visit North Dakota and see for yourself!