Maryland – Researchers at the University of Maryland Center of Environmental Sciences have discovered that for various reasons the Cynomys leucurus, commonly known as prairie dog, sometimes attacks squirrels to death. The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on March 23.
In the paper, researchers report that white-tailed prairie dogs residing in colonies in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, in the North American prairie, tent to kill ground squirrels that live in the same area. The researchers assume that the reasons for the killings are competition for space and food with the ground squirrels. Researchers noted that those that killed had much better odds of living than those who didn’t.
For years, the researchers observed 43 different adult prairie dogs kill 101 ground squirrels, with 62 other suspected killings.
For years, Hoogland, his colleague Charles Brown, and a small group of students pair recorded multiple cases of squirrel killing. The recordings consisted of sitting in tree-stands watching the activities of the creatures below.
They report that they were shocked to witness a prairie dog killing a squirrel four years into their study and thereafter made it a priority to look out for another such instance.
Hoogland described the scene saying prairie dogs chase ground squirrels, mostly babies, and when they catch them, they shake them violently. While shaking, they bite the back of the neck to sever the vertebral column. Sometimes they grab the squirrel by the head and literally debrain the baby.
“In my 43 years of research, this is perhaps the most provocative, puzzling, and far-reaching discovery I’ve ever made. The results are just staggering. I describe the behavior in eight words: catch them, shake them, kill them, leave them,” said study co-author John Hoogland of the University of Maryland Center of Environmental Sciences.
Source: The Royal Society B