Prairie dogs of the Great Plains of North America can detect predators from far away and when they do, they're not shy about letting other prairie dogs know about the impending danger. Within a complex communication system, prairie dogs bark out distinct calls to identify different predators.
In an episode of "North America" on Discovery Channel, one brave prairie dog warns the colony and risks its life to drive a deadly rattlesnake away from its den and away from its babies. It's serpent vs. rodent. It's venomous bite vs. sharp claws and teeth:
The alarm system among prairie dogs is quite sophisticated.
Alarm response behavior varies according to the type of predator announced. If the alarm indicates a hawk diving toward the colony, all the prairie dogs in its flight path dive into their holes, while those outside the flight path stand and watch. If the alarm is for a human, all members of the colony immediately rush inside the burrows. For coyotes, the prairie dogs move to the entrance of a burrow and stand outside the entrance, observing the coyote, while those prairie dogs that were inside the burrows will come out to stand and watch also. For domestic dogs, the response is to observe, standing in place where they were when the alarm was sounded, again with the underground prairie dogs emerging to watch.
Our favorite call is the all-clear sound, which you see given on the above video after the prairie dog lures the rattlesnake away from its pups. The celebration is quite joyous, and cute.
Photos are screen grabs from Discovery Channel’s “North America.”