99              Prairie Dog - Prairie Marmot Squirrel

                        SPERMOPHILUS LUDOVICIANUS.--Ord.
                             [Cynomys ludovicianus]

                           [Black-tailed Praire dog]

                  PLATE XCIX.--1. MALE.  2. FEMALE.  3. YOUNG.

     S. super cervinus pilis nigris interspersis; subtus sordide albus, ungue
pollicari conico majusculu, cauda brevi apicem versus fusco torquata.

     Back, reddish brown, mixed with grey and black; belly, soiled white; tail,
short, banded with brown near the tip; thumb-nail, rather large, and conical.


     PRAIRIE DOG, Lewis and Clark's Exp., 1st vol., p. 67.
     WISHTONWISH, Pike's Expedition, &c., p. 156.
     ARCTOMYS LUDOVICIANUS, Ord, in Guthrie, Geog., 2d., 302,1815.
     ARCTOMYS MISSOURIENSIS, Warden, Descr. des Etats Unis, vol. 5., p. 567.
     ARCTOMYS LUDOVICIANUS, Say, Long's Exped., 1st vol., p. 451.
     ARCT. LUDOVICIANUS, Harlan, p. 160.
     ARCT. LUDOVICIANUS, Godman, vol. 2, p. 114.


     This animal in its external form has more the appearance of a marmot, than
of a spermophile.  It is short, thick, and clumsy, and is not possessed of the
light, squirrel-like shape, which characterizes the spermophili.  In its small
cheek-pouches, however, being three-fourths of an inch in depth, and in the
structure of its teeth, it approaches nearer the spermophili, and we have
accordingly arranged it under that genus.
     The head is broad and depressed; nose short and blunt, hairy to the
nostrils.  Incisors, large, protruding beyond the lips; eyes, large; ears,
placed far backwards, short, and oblong, being a mere flap nearly covered by the
short fur; neck, short and thick; legs, short and stout.  This species is
pendactylous; the rudimental thumb on the fore-feet protected by a sharp,
conical nail; nails, of medium size, scarcely channelled beneath, nearly
straight, and sharp, extending beyond the hair; tail, short and bushy; hair on
the body, rather coarse; under-fur, of moderate fineness.  The female has ten
mammae arranged along the sides of the belly.


     The hair on the back is, from the roots, for one-third of its length,
bluish-black, then soiled-white--then light-brown; some of the hairs having
yellowish-white, and others black, tips.  The hairs on the under-surface, are at
the roots bluish, and for nearly their whole length yellowish-white, giving the
sides of face, cheeks, chin, and throat, legs, belly, and undersurface of tail a
yellowish-white colour.  Teeth, white; moustaches and eyes, black; nails, brown.
The tail partakes of the colour of the back for three-fourths of its length, but
is tipped with black, extending one inch from the end.


                                                   MALE.       FEMALE.
                                                   Inches.     Inches.

     Nose to root of tail,  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  13          12 3/8
     Nose to end of tail,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  16 3/4      15 3/4
     Tail, vertebrae, .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   2 5/8       2 1/4
     Tail to end of hair,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   3 1/8
     Nose to anterior canthus, .  .  .  .  .  .  .   1 1/4       1 1/8
     Height of ear,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     7/16        7/16
     Width between eyes, .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   1 1/2 do    1 5/16
     Length of fore-hand,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   1 5/16      1 1/4
     Length of heel and hind-foot .  .  .  .  .  .   2 1/8       2
     Depth of pouch,  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     3/4
     Diameter of pouch,  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     5/8
     Feet slightly webbed at base.


     The general impression of those persons who have never seen the "Prairie
Dog" called by the French Canadians "petit chien," would be far from correct in
respect to this little animal, should they incline to consider it as a small "
dog."  It was probably only owing to the sort of yelp, chip, chip, chip, uttered
by these marmots, that they were called Prairie Dogs, for they do not resemble
the genus Canis much more than does a common gray squirrel!
     This noisy spermophile, or marmot, is found in numbers, sometimes hundreds
of families together, living in burrows on the prairies; and their galleries are
so extensive as to render riding among them quite unsafe in many places.  Their
habitations are generally called " dog-towns," or villages, by the Indians and
trappers, and are described as being intersected by streets (pathways) for their
accommodation, and a degree of neatness and cleanliness is preserved.  These
villages, or communities, are, however, sometimes infested with rattle-snakes
and other reptiles, which feed upon the marmots.  The burrowing owl, (Surnia
cunicularia,) is also found among them, and probably devours a great number of
the defenceless animals.
     The first of these villages observed by our party, when we were ascending
the Missouri river in 1843, was near the " Great bend " of that stream.  The
mounds were very low, the holes mostly open, and but few of the animals to be
     Our friend EDWARD HARRIS, Mr. BELL and MICHAUX, shot at them, but we could
not procure any, and were obliged to proceed, being somewhat anxious to pitch
our camp for the night, before dark.  Near Fort George, (a little farther up the
river,) we again found a village of these marmots, and saw great numbers of
them.  They do not bark, but utter a chip, chip, chip, loud and shrill enough,
and at each cry jerk their tail, not erecting it, however, to a perpendicular.
     Their holes are not straight down, but incline downwards, at an angle of
about forty degrees for a little distance and then diverge sideways or upwards.
We shot at two of these marmots which were not standing across their holes
apparently, but in front of them, the first one we never saw after the shot; the
second we found dying at the entrance of the burrow, but at our approach it
worked itself backward--we drew our ramrod and put the screw in its mouth, it
bit sharply at this, but notwithstanding our screwing, it kept working backward,
and was soon out of sight and beyond the reach of our ramrod.
     Mr. BELL saw two enter the same hole, and Mr. HARRIS observed three.
Occasionally these marmots stood quite erect, and watched our movements, and
then leaped into the air, all the time keeping an eye on us.  We found that by
lying down within twenty or thirty steps of their holes, and remaining silent,
the animals re-appeared in fifteen or twenty minutes.  Now and then one of them,
after coming out of its hole, issued a long and somewhat whistling note, perhaps
a call, or invitation to his neighbours, as several came out in a few moments.
The cries of this species are probably uttered for their amusement, or as a
means of recognition, and not, especially, at the appearance of danger.  They
are, as we think, more in the habit of feeding by night than in the day time;
their droppings are scattered plentifully in the neighbourhood of their
     A few days after this visit to the Prairie Dogs, one of our hunters, who
had been out a great part of the night, brought in three of them, but they had
been killed with very coarse shot, and were so badly cut and torn by the charge,
that they were of little use to us.  We ascertained that these marmots are
abundant in this part of the country, their villages being found in almost every
     From the number of teats in the female, the species is no doubt very
     On our return down the river, we killed two Prairie Dogs on the 23d of
August, their notes resembled the noise made by the Arkansas flycatcher
     We have received an interesting letter from Col. ABERT of the Topographical
bureau at Washington City, giving us an account of the quadrupeds and birds
observed by Lieut. ABERT, on an exploratory journey in the south-west, in New
Mexico, &c.  Lieut. ABERT observed the Prairie Dogs in that region of country,
in the middle of winter; he says "our Prairie Dog (a marmot) does not hibernate,
but is out all winter, as lively and as pert as on any summer day."
     This is not in accordance with the accounts of authors, who have it that
this animal does hibernate.  We find it stated that it "closes accurately the
mouth of the burrow, and constructs at the bottom of it a neat globular cell of
fine dry grass, having an aperture at top sufficiently large to admit a finger,
and so compactly put together that it might almost be rolled along the ground
uninjured."  We feel greatly obliged to Lieut. ABERT, for the information he
gives us, which either explodes a long received error, or acquaints us with a
fact of some importance in natural history--that changes of climate will
produce, so great an effect as to abrogate a provision of nature, bestowed upon
some animals, to enable them to exist during the rigorous winters of the north;
so that, by migrating to a warmer region, species that would, in high latitudes
be compelled to sleep out half their lives, could enjoy the air and light, and
luxuriate in the sense of " being alive" all the circling year!  We have not
been able to gather any information in relation to this subject since receiving
the above-mentioned letter, but in our article on Arctomys monax, (vol. i., p.
20) some curious facts were related in respect to the effect or artificial heat,
applied from time to time to that animal, when in a torpid state, which produced
each time a temporary animation; thus shewing that a certain absence of caloric
causes hibernation immediately, while its presence arouses the powers of life in
a few minutes.  The special construction of hibernating animals is not (as far
as we have ascertained) yet explained by the researches of comparative anatomy.
     Lewis and Clark give a very good description of the Prairie Dog, at page
67, vol. 1.  They poured five barrels of water into one of their holes without
filling it, but dislodged and caught the owner.  They further say that after
digging down another of the holes for six feet, they found on running a pole
into it that they had not yet dug half-way to the bottom; they discovered two
frogs in the hole, and near it killed a dark rattlesnake, which had swallowed
one of the Prairie Dogs.
     Our friend Dr., now Sir JOHN RICHARDSON, (in the Fauna Boreali Americana,)
has well elucidated the notices of this and other species described in LEWIS and
CLARK's "Expedition," but, appears not to be certain whether this animal has
cheek-pouches or not, and is puzzled apparently by the following:  the jaw is
furnished with a pouch to contain his food, but not so large as that of the
common squirrel."  The Dr. in a note says--"It is not easy to divine what the
"common squirrel is which has ample cheek-pouches."  We presume that this
passage can be made plain by inserting the word ground so that "common
ground-squirrel" be the reading.  The "common ground-squirrel" was doubtless
well known to LEWIS and CLARK, and has ample cheek-pouches (see our account of
Tamias Lysterii, vol. 1, p. 65.)  This explanation would not be volunteered by
us but for our respect for the knowledge and accuracy of LEWIS and CLARK, both
of whom we had the pleasure of personally knowing many years ago.
     For an amusing account of a large village of these marmots, we extract the
following from KENDALL's Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition, vol. 1, p.
189.  "We had proceeded but a short distance, after reaching this beautiful
prairie, before we came upon the outskirts of the commonwealth, a few scattering
dogs were seen scampering in, their short, sharp yelps giving a general alarm to
the whole community.  The first brief cry of danger from the outskirts was soon
taken up in the centre of the city, and now nothing was to be heard or seen in
any direction but a barking, dashing and scampering of the mercurial and
excitable denizens of the place, each to his burrow.
     Far as the eye could reach the city extended, and all over it the scene was
the same.  We rode leisurely along until we had reached the more thickly settled
portion of the place.  Here we halted, and after taking the bridles from our
horses to allow them to graze, we prepared for a regular attack upon the
inhabitants.  The burrows were not more than ten or fifteen yards apart, with
well trodden paths leading in different directions, and I even fancied I could
discover something like regularity in the laying out of the streets.
     We sat down upon a bank under the shade of a musquit, and leisurely
surveyed the scene before us.  Our approach had driven every one to his home in
our immediate vicinity, but at the distance of some hundred yards the small
mound of earth in front of each burrow was occupied by a Dog, sitting erect on
his hinder legs, and coolly looking about for the cause of the recent commotion.
Every now and then some citizen, more adventurous than his neighbour, would
leave his lodgings on a flying visit to a friend, apparently exchange a few
words, and then scamper back as fast as his legs would carry him.
     By-and-by, as we kept perfectly still, some of our near neighbours were
seen cautiously poking their heads from out their holes, and looking craftily,
and, at the same time, inquisitively about them.  Gradually a citizen would
emerge from the entrance of his domicil, come out upon his observatory, perk his
head cunningly, and then commence yelping somewhat after the manner of a young
puppy--a quick jerk of the tail accompanying each yelp.  It is this short bark
alone that has given them the name of Dogs, as they bear no more resemblance to
that animal, either in appearance, action, or manner of living, than they do to
the hyena.
     We were armed, one with a double-barrelled shot-gun, and another with one
of Colt's repeating-rifles of small bore, while I had my short heavy rifle,
throwing a large ball, and acknowledged by all to be the best weapon in the
command.  It would drive a ball completely through a buffalo at the distance of
a hundred and fifty-yards, and there was no jumping off or running away by a
deer when struck in the right place; to use a common expression,"he would never
know what had hurt him."  Hit one of the Dogs where we would, with a small ball,
he would almost invariably turn a peculiar somerset, and get into his hole, but
by a ball, from my rifle, the entire head of the animal would be knocked off,
and after this, there was no escape.  With the shot-gun again, we could do
nothing but waste ammunition.  I fired it at one Dog not ten steps off, having
in a good charge of buckshot, and thought I must cut him into fragments.  I
wounded him severely, but with perhaps three or four shot through him, he was
still able to wriggle and tumble into his hole.
     For three hours we remained in this commonwealth, watching the movements of
the inhabitants and occasionally picking off one of the more unwary.  No less
than nine were got by the party; and one circumstance I would mention as
singular in the extreme, and shewing the social relationship which exists among
these animals as well as the kind regard they have for one another.  One of them
had perched himself upon the pile of earth in front of his hole, sitting up and
exposing a fair mark, while a companion's head was seen poking out of the
entrance, too timid, perhaps to trust himself farther.  A well-directed ball
from my rifle carried away the entire top of the former's head, and knocked him
some two or three feet from his post perfectly dead.  While reloading, the other
boldly came out, seized his companion by one of his legs, and before we could
reach the hole had drawn him completely out of sight.  There was a touch of
feeling in the little incident, a something human, which raised the animals in
my estimation, and ever after I did not attempt to kill one of them, except when
driven by extreme hunger."
     Mr. KENDALL says, further on, of these animals:--"They are a wild,
frolicsome, madcap set of fellows when undisturbed, uneasy and ever on the move,
and appear to take especial delight in chattering away the time.  and visiting
from hole to hole to gossip and talk over each other's affairs--at least, so
their actions would indicate.  When they find a good location for a village, and
there is no water in the immediate vicinity, old hunters say, they dig a well to
supply the wants of the community.  On several occasions I crept close to their
villages, without being observed to watch their movements.  Directly in the
centre of one of them I particularly noticed a very large Dog, sitting in front
of the door or entrance to his burrow, and by his own actions and those of his
neighbours, it really seemed as though he was the president, mayor, or chief--at
all events, he was the "big dog" of the place.  For at least an hour I secretly
watched the operations in this community.  During that time the large Dog I have
mentioned received at least a dozen visits from his fellow-dogs, which would
stop and chat with him a few moments, and then run off to their domicils.  All
this while he never left his post for a moment, and I thought I could discover a
gravity in his deportment not discernible in those by which he was surrounded.
Far is it from me to say, that the visits he received were upon business, or had
anything to do with the local government of the village; but it certainly
appeared so.  If any animal has a system of laws regulating the body politic, it
is certainly the Prairie Dog."
     This marmot tumbles, or rolls over, when he enters his hole, "with an
eccentric bound and half-somerset, his hind-feet knocking together as he pitches
headlong into the darkness below; and before the spectator has recovered from
the half-laugh caused by the drollery of the movement, he will see the Dog
slowly thrust his head from his burrow, and with a pert and impudent expression
of countenance, peer cunningly about, as if to ascertain the effect his recent
antic had caused."
     Mr. KENDALL thinks that the burrowing owl, which he mentions as "a singular
species of owl, invariably found residing in and about the dog towns," is on the
best of terms with these marmots, and says, "as he is frequently seen entering
and emerging from the same hole, this singular bird may be looked upon as a
member of the same family, or at least, as a retainer whose services are in some
way necessary to the comfort and well-being of the animal whose hospitality he
shares."  This idea is doubtless incorrect, and we would almost hazard the
assertion that these owls prey upon the young, or even the adults, of these
marmots; they also, probably, devour the bodies of those which die in their
holes, and thus may stand toward the animals in the light of sexton and
undertaker.  Mr. KENDALL is entirely correct in what he says about the
rattle-snakes, which dwell in the same lodges with the Dogs.  "The snakes I look
upon as loafers, not easily shaken off by the regular inhabitants, and they make
use of the dwellings of the Dogs as more comfortable quarters than they can find
elsewhere.  We killed one a short distance from a burrow, which had made a meal
of a half-grown Dog; and although I do not think they can master the larger
animals, the latter are still compelled to let them pass in and out without
molestation--a nuisance, like many in more elevated society that cannot be got
rid of."
     Mr. KENDALL and his companions found the meat of this species "exceedingly
sweet, tender, and juicy--resembling that of the squirrel, only that it was much
     None of these animals were seen by J. W. AUDUBON in his journey through
that part of Texas lying between Galveston and San Antonio, and he only heard of
one village, to the northward and westward of Torrey's Lodge; they do not
approach the coast apparently, being found only on the prairies beyond, or to
the westward of the wooded portions of that State.  A collector of animals and
birds, who has passed the last three years in various parts of Mexico, and who
showed us his whole collection, had none of these marmots, and we suppose their
range does not extend as far south as the middle portions of that country.

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     This species is found on he banks of the Missouri and its tributaries.  It
also exists near the Platte river in great abundance.  It was seen by J. W.
AUDUBON in limited numbers in Sonora and on the sandy hills adjoining the Tulare
Valley, and in other parts of California.  We do not know whether it is an
inhabitant of Oregon or not.