The prairie dog is a member of the squirrel family. It obtained its name because its yapping sound is similar to that made by a small dog. An adult prairie dog is between 12 and 16 inches long and weighs between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds. The prairie dog's legs are short, but its feet are large and have well-developed claws. They live in underground colonies. The largest prairie dog colony on record was in Texas, and was about 100 miles wide, 250 miles long and contained an estimated 400 million animals. The prairie dog was hunted by the Native Americans.
These prairie dogs seemed to be on good terms with small owls and different kinds of snakes. Or perhaps these animals seemed to associate with them in order to feed upon the young and weak prairie dogs. We did not succeed in shooting any of them. Experienced hunters had told us that even if we hit them, unless we shot them in the head, they would escape before we could catch them. Their meat is said to be tender and tasty.
They are called prairie dogs, because they utter a short, sharp bark, but the dogs are, in reality, marmots. We passed numbers of these villages, which are composed of raised circular orifices, about eighteen inches in diameter, with sloping passages leading downwards for five or six feet. Hundreds of these burrows are placed together. On nearly every rim a small furry reddish-buff beast sat on his hind legs, looking, so far as head went, much like a young seal. These creatures were acting as sentinels, and sunning themselves. As we passed, each gave a warning yelp, shook its tail, and, with a ludicrous flourish of its hind legs, dived into its hole. The appearance of hundreds of these creatures, each eighteen inches long, sitting like dogs begging, with their paws down and all turned sunwards, is most grotesque.