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Prairie Dog Alarms

June 22, 2009

Prairie dogs have different alarms calls for predators of different colors and different species.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Discriminating prairie dogs. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(Sfx: Prairie dog alarm calls)
Many people consider Gunnison’s prairie dogs to be pests, but animal behaviorist Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University says to understand them, we just need to be better listeners. He and his colleagues have discovered that the burrowing rodents produce unique alarm calls for each different type of predator.

CON SLOBODCHIKOFF (Northern Arizona University):
They’re able to describe who the predator is whether it’s a coyote or a hawk or a dog or a human.

HIRSHON:
Not only that, but they can also distinguish the features of individual predators, like color, size, and shape. He says individual predators have different hunting strategies, so unique alarm calls for each one may help the whole colony survive. He and his team are now investigating the possibility that groups of young prairie dogs learn these calls in a sort of prairie dog "school". I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.