Prairie dogs occur only in North America. They are rodents within the squirrel family and include five species: the black-tailed prairie dog, the white-tailed prairie dog, the Gunnison prairie dog, the Utah prairie dog, and the Mexican prairie dog. The Utah and Mexican prairie dogs are currently listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened and endangered, respectively. Generally, the black-tailed prairie dog occurs east of the other four species in more mesic habitat.
Prairie dogs are small, stout ground squirrels. The total length of an adult black-tailed prairie dog is approximately 14-17 inches. The weight of an individual ranges from one to three pounds. Individual appearances within the species vary in mixed colors of brown, black, gray, and white. The black-tipped tail is characteristic. Black-tailed prairie dogs are diurnal, burrowing animals. They do not hibernate as do white-tailed, Gunnison, and Utah prairie dogs. The black-footed ferret, swift fox, mountain plover, ferruginous hawk, burrowing owl, and a number other species are dependent upon prairie dogs to varying degrees.