If you've ever spent any time around prairie dogs, you've no doubt heard their 'bark'. You also probably noticed that once the barking started, all the other prairie dogs disappeared from their mound of dirt. They were heeding the warning calls of their fellow sentinel that a potential predator was fast approaching. In response to these warning barks, an entire community of prairie dogs, which are ground dwelling squirrels, will typically seek safety in their underground labyrinth of tunnels.
US-based academic Professor Con Slobodchikoff, postulates that prairie dogs have a complex communication system that borders on language. On his website it says, "They have different alarm calls for humans, coyotes, domestic dogs, and red-tailed hawks. In addition, the prairie dogs can describe the size and shape of an individual predator. This is the most sophisticated animal language system that has been described to date."
"Individual prairie dogs have different tonal qualities, just as human voices differ, but different rodents use the same words to describe the same predators, allowing the alarm call to be understood by the rest of the colony." source: http://news.bbc.co.uk
Professor Slobodchikoff has long studied the vocal repertoire of Gunnison's prairie dog.
With a single bark, he says, a prairie dog may warn about the type and direction of an encroaching predator, and even describe its colour.
If confirmed, that means the chattering rodents communicate in a more complex way than even monkeys or dolphins. LISTEN TO THE SOUNDS where you can also read the full article.
Prof Slobodchikoff believes the prairie dogs may have evolved such complex language because they live in a complex, social society housed in a highly engineered and complex burrow system. source: http://news.bbc.co.uk
Five species of prairie dogs are native to the
grasslands and prairies of North America.
Prairie dogs have specific activities to perform. A typical day is divided between foraging, interacting with others, maintaining burrows, and scouting for predators. Typically within each coterie -- a ward -- one prairie dog acts as the sentinel, standing on the mound and watching for predators. source: http://nationalzoo.si.edu
Prairie dogs play a very important role in sustaining other prairie life. Biologists count more than 170 vertebrate species that are affected by the prairie dogs' existence.
Lewis and Clark, while on their famous 1804 journey across North America, noted that this "wild dog of the prairie...appears here in infinite numbers." At that time, an estimated five billion prairie dogs lived throughout the continent's vast prairie! source: http://nationalzoo.si.edu
The loss of open prairie has dramatically reduced the prairie dog population. Since the arrival of European settlers, North America's prairie dog population has plummeted by 98 percent. Prairie dogs have been exterminated because of the perceived competition with grazing cattle and bison for grasses. New studies indicate that prairie dogs do not drastically affect the amount of vegetation available for cattle. source: http://nationalzoo.si.edu
Here's another good link for more information:
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