This is a Gunnison's Prairie Dog. I took this photograph on Route 70 just across the Colorado/Utah border. There are five kinds of Prairie Dogs, White-tailed, Black-tailed, Mexican, Utah and Gunnison's. I'm pretty sure this one is Gunnison's because of where I took the photograph. Prairie Dogs are burrowing rodents, a kind of squirrel, actually. They are called Prairie Dogs because they bark. They dig tunnels up to sixteen feet deep and as much as one hundred feet long! They live in enormous colonies called towns, numbering in the thousands and spanning hundreds of acres. Outside of Denver, between the airport and the city, is a colossal Prairie Dog town. Prairie Dogs are very social and kiss when they greet one another. Family groups consist of one male and two to four females. The Mormons in Utah did not invent the polygamy model! Prairie Dogs eat grasses and some insects. As a major prey species for coyotes, foxes and birds of prey, they are an ecological keystone species. Their digging activity turns over soil changing the composition. The grasses that grow there are favored by antelope, deer and bison. The brush that would grow over an area left unchurned by Prairie Dogs is not suitable for grazing. And, the tunnels channel rain to the ground table rather than being lost to runoff and erosion. Without the Prairie Dog, the ecology of many other species would collapse. In corporate America, office buildings filled with cubicles resemble Prairie Dog towns. When a noise or commotion gets the attention of the office workers they pop their heads above the cubicle tops like startled Prairie Dogs. "Prairie Dogging," they pop out of their burrows to see what's going on. Man is the biggest threat to Prairie Dogs due to urban encroachment of habitat and direct removal or poisoning. Perceived competition for livestock grazing land and the mistaken belief that horses step into the burrows have been the motivators. Prairie Dogs are also susceptible to Bubonic plague, Tularemia and Monkey Pox, all transmittable to humans. Before 2003, there was a thriving exotic pet trade in Prairie Dogs which were vacuum sucked out of their burrows. One human case of Monkey Pox was traced back to a Prairie Dog sold at a trade show. Though the Prairie Dog had been infected by an un-quarantined rat imported from Gambia, that was the end of the Prairie Dog pet craze. The Center For Disease Control (CDC) still considers that a major coup in their control of zoonosis. I bet there are a lot of Prairie Doggers at the CDC startled by the sound of imagined threat, something rediculous or perhaps, a vacuum cleaner.
Thanks, in part, to Wikipedia for this information.