Animals in the Prairie Ecosystem

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A prairie is a plant community dominated by grasses, shrubs and a limited number of nonwoody flowering plants known as "forbs." The animals that live in the prairie ecosystem are those who have adapted to survive in the open grasslands typical of the prairie.

Prairie Dogs

  • Prairie dogs are burrowing, rabbit-sized rodents that live in North American prairies and open grasslands. The name of these animals is derived from their habitat and their warning call, which sounds like a dog's bark. There are five species of prairie dogs: Utah, white-tailed, Mexican, Gunnison's and black-tailed. Prairie dogs are mainly herbivorous animals who feed on grasses, broadleaf forbs, roots, seeds, fruit and buds. A few species of prairie dogs eat insects. Prairie dogs affect the prairie ecosystem because their habit of digging burrows contributes to soil enhancement and filtration and contributes to forb growth. These animals are also a key source of food for such preys like golden eagles, burrowing owls, coyotes and badgers.

Prairie Vole

  • Voles are small rodents that resemble mice. Prairie voles are the voles that are found in the prairies of central North America. Prairie voles have short tails and ears and live in shallow underground burrows. They tend to live in colonies. In addition to underground burrows, also construct surface runways to use for concealment and protection. Prairie voles eat leaves, plants, bulbs, seeds and bark. They are also carnivorous, as they feed on their own kind that are caught and killed by traps.

Plains Pocket Gopher

  • Plains pocket gophers are small- or medium-sized, dark-colored gophers with large, fur-lined cheek pouches. They have long curved claws on their front feet that they use for digging, while the claws on their hind feet are much smaller. Plains pocket gophers are solitary creatures that live most of their lives in underground burrows and only come to the surface to discard earth removed by their tunneling activities, or to look for food. These animals mainly feed on the roots and stems of grasses and weeds. Their fur-lined pouches are used to store food and for carrying nesting material. Their natural predators include badgers and snakes.

Cottontail Rabbit

  • Cottontail rabbits are stocky animals with long ears, large hind feet and a short, fluffy tail that looks like a cotton ball. These animals live on the edges of open fields and areas of dense high grass. In the summer, they feed on herbs and tender grasses, beans, peas and lettuce. In the winter, they feed on twigs and buds of shrubs. They also have a habit of re-ingesting their own fecal pellets to increase their level of minerals and vitamins.

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