Difference Between Prairie Dogs and Groundhogs (with Table)

What could be more confusing than having a rodent named dog? Well, maybe another rodent species that look very much alike to the previously mentioned rodent.

Unknown to many, prairie dog is a rodent species and belongs to the same class as the groundhogs. It can often become quite a task when one tries to differentiate between the two since both are burrowers and do hibernate in the winters.

Prairie dogs are herbivore rodents that live in communal burrows connected through tunnels. They belong to the Cynomys genus and are a type of ground squirrel commonly found in the grasslands of North America. They got their name because their calls sounded similar to that of a dog’s bark.

Groundhogs are also another type of herbivores rodent species that belong to the M. monax species they are strong diggers. They have sharp and curved claws for the very purpose. They are also called woodchuck and are found throughout North America.

The difference between Prairie dogs and Groundhogs is that prairie dogs live in groups like families or communities with one male, one female and the little ones in one burrow whereas groundhogs live to live in solitude in deep burrows of 14-16 feet deep.

Comparison Table Between Prairie dogs and Groundhogs

Parameters of ComparisonPrairie dogsGroundhogs
SizeSmall in sizeLarge when compared to prairie dogs
CharacteristicThey live in groups as a community or a familyThey prefer to live isolated from the rest
Forming burrowsThey form burrows that are connected through tunnels to other burrows of their communityThey dig a deep burrow only for themselves and are not connected to other burrows.
Natural habitatsThey are found in most temperate landsThey are found in all of North America
CallsThey have a distinct whistle calls that change for the message they want to communicateThey have shrill whistle call
HibernationThey are facultative torporThey are true hibernators

What are Prairie dogs?

Prairie dogs are a type of herbivores rodent found on the temperate grasslands of North America. There are mainly five species of prairie dogs which are black-tailed, white-tailed, Mexican prairie dogs, Gunnison’s, Utah. Among these species, black-tailed is the most common one.

Prairies live in the form of families in one burrow. Their small group includes one male, one female and their little kids much like in the case of humans living in nuclear families and groom each other and also work together to protect their shelter.

They do not hibernate groundhogs but regulate their body temperature in a manner called facultative torpor. Since they are not true hibernators, prairie dogs can be seen to be outside during warm winter days to get food like grass, seeds, etc.

The calls of a prairie dog are distinct calls that sound like whistles. They commonly use these to communicate about possible predators, or for marking their territory. Depending on what they are conveying, the tone and pitch of the whistle changes.

prairie dogs

What is Groundhogs?

Groundhogs are rodents belonging to the M. monax species as they are strong diggers. They are mainly herbivores but can also feed on small insects and worms if necessary. They gain weight during the start of winter to for hibernation.

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They are true hibernators who regulate their body temperature and lower their heartbeats along with reducing their oxygen intake. Scientists have been studying their behaviour during hibernation to get a clearer picture of the concept.

In general, they have a life-span of 14 years without any threats being included but if they are open to wildlife then they are seen to only have an average of 2-6 years because of their predators.

They form nearly 14-15 ft deep burrows but on being threatened by predators, they can also climb up high trees for hiding themselves. Their usual predators include coyotes, foxes etc.

Groundhog 1

Main Differences Between Prairie dogs and Groundhogs

  1. Prairie dogs, as compared to the groundhogs who are 16-19 inches, are very small with only a maximum length of 12-15 inches in case of an adult. The adult prairies are said to be even smaller than rabbits.
  2. Groundhogs live in solitary. They do not live in communities or groups. Prairie dogs on the other hand live in groups called communities or families. They stay with a male, a female and their little ones in one burrow.
  3. Prairie dogs dig burrows and connect them through tunnels to other burrows of their family as the like to live in as a group. Since groundhogs like to live in solace, they dig deep burrows away from everyone else and do not form tunnels.
  4. The prairie dogs are not true hibernators because they do not live in areas with harsh winter conditions. They tend to habitat in temperate lands. Whereas groundhogs are found throughout North America.
  5. Groundhogs have a shriek whistle call to alert other nearby groundhogs of possible preys being close by. Whereas prairie dogs have a distinct call that sounds like whistle and changes with the message they want to communicate to other prairies.
  6. Prairie dogs only tend to lower their regulate their body temperature and this is called facultative torpor. But, groundhogs are true hibernators and shows all the characteristics of one.

Conclusion

Prairie dogs and groundhogs are rodents that have small body proportions and nests themselves in burrows dug by them. They have a whistle-like call for warning or communicating with others of their species and also belong to the same family of Sciuridae.

Prairie dogs are stout-bodied rodents that can grow to a maximum of 30-40 cm. Their distinct calls that can be mistaken for a dog’s bark is what gave them their name. They are communal species and live in groups.

Groundhogs are also herbivores rodents that have a similar body structure to that of prairie dogs but live alone in deep burrows. They are larger as they can grow up to 19 inches long. They are also skilled in climbing trees if they have to escape from predators.

Groundhogs are prairie dogs are also different because of their characteristics during hibernation. Groundhogs are true hibernators and inhibit all the qualities of one whereas prairie dogs only regulate their body temperature and come out for food.

References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/037859559490233X
  2. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/215/4540/1639.abstract

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