sA healthy prairie is home to many different creatures that help to balance the sensitive ecosystem. These animals that live in prairies range from large bison to small rodents, and each one plays an important role in maintaining this unique habitat. Keep on reading to learn more about these animals that call the prairie their home.
10 Animals That Live in Prairies
Prairies are flat grasslands that feature only a few trees. The temperature in prairies are typically moderate, as is the rainfall. It’s this moderate environment that makes it an ideal area for many different species of animals.
1. Prairie Dogs
Scientific Name: Cynomys
As their name suggests, prairie dogs are native to prairie and grassland habitats. These burrowing ground squirrels can weigh around 3 pounds and measure about 12 inches long.
They typically feed on plants, but will also consume seeds and fruit. Prairie dogs are themselves a food source for various predators, such as coyotes, hawks, foxes, ferrets, and badgers.
Scientific Name: Cervidae
Deer, especially the white-tailed deer, love prairie areas since they provide food for the animal. Grasses, weeds, vines, shrubs, and trees can all be found in prairies, and these are all foods that deer love.
With that said, however, most deer won’t make the prairie their main home because it typically doesn’t provide the cover they need. Instead, deer will live in wooded areas and visit the prairie to rest and get food.
3. Prairie Vole
Scientific Name: Microtus ochrogaster
Prairie voles are another creature that is found in prairies throughout central North America. They have coarse gray to brown fur covering a compact and stocky body, and weigh in at about 1.5 ounces. Prairie voles typically feed on plant parts, such as roots, flowers, leaves, stems, and tubers.
These small creatures are preyed on by various ravens, owls, hawks, coyotes, snakes, weasels, raccoons, shews, skunks, opossums, and foxes. Prairie Voles use interesting postures in order to communicate with other prairie voles and their enemies. When they feel threatened, they will extend their heads, chatter their teeth, and raise their feet.
Scientific Name: Bison
Bisons were once a common sight in prairies, plains, and other grassland areas. In the late 1800s, however, their numbers diminished greatly due to over-slaughtering and hunting. Thankfully, these large, impressive creatures are no longer on the endangered species list, although they still face many challenges that could put their numbers at risk once again.
The bison is the largest mammal in North America. The male of the species can weigh 2,000 pounds and they stand up to 6 feet tall.
5. Northern Grasshopper Mouse
Scientific Name: Onychomys leucogaster
The Northern grasshopper mouse is found in prairies and grasslands throughout North America. These unique rodents mainly consume grasshoppers, but will also feast on beetles and grubs. They weigh less than one ounce and have a length of just a little over 4 inches.
The average lifespan of the Northern grasshopper mouse is only a few weeks to a few months. When these rodents are born, they weigh only about 3 grams and are born with their eyes closed.
Scientific Name: Cervus canadensis
Elk are a large member of the deer family, measuring up to 8 feet long and over 700 pounds. They are found in various habitats, including prairies, forests, damp meadows, and semi-desert areas.
Elk mainly consume grasses, shrubs, twigs, leaves, pine needles, bark, and even tree lichens. Despite weighing over 700 pounds, elk are fast runners and can reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour!
Scientific Name: Antilocapra americana
Pronghorns are most commonly found on open plains, prairies, brush, grasslands, fields, and deserts. They can weigh between 75 to 140 pounds, stand at up to 3.4 feet at their shoulders, and are almost 5 feet long. These animals are herbivores and consume various grasses and plants found I the prairie.
One interesting thing about pronghorns is that these animals digest their food twice. Once they swallow their food, it goes through their stomach and then they will regurgitate it before swallowing again.
8. Black Footed Ferrets
Scientific Name: Mustela nigripes
The black-footed ferret is also known as the American polecat and is found in grass prairies. They can measure 16 inches long and weigh up to 2 pounds.
These creatures spend most of their time underground and they often take over abandoned prairie dog dens, making them their new home. They feed on prairie dogs, mice, squirrels, and other rodents.
Black-footed ferrets are, unfortunately, considered one of the most endangered mammals in North America, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Scientific Name: Canis latrans
Coyotes are another animal that prefers to live in open areas, such as deserts and prairies. They are dog-like creatures that can weigh as much as 46 pounds.
They have grayish brown fur that is tinged either red or grayish silver around their ears and faces. Their tail is bushy, their ears are pointed, and their muzzle is slender.
Coyotes have a varied diet that includes fruit, beans, insects, flowers, rabbits, lizards, snakes, birds, and rodents. Coyotes can also make their way into residential areas and raid trash and even prey on small pets.
10. Mountain Lions
Scientific Name: Puma concolor
Mountain lions, which are also known as cougars, commonly make the American prairie their home, and these large cats are actually important to the stability of the ecosystem. Mountain lions prevent overgrazing, which can occur if their prey gets out of control.
These large cats often feed on deer, but will also consume other mammals, including elk, sheep, raccoon, turkey, and rabbit. They can weigh as much as 220 pounds and have a length of almost 8 feet.
An interesting fact about mountain lions is that they don’t roar. The female of the species will make a loud scream when they are trying to attract a mate. The female mountain lion has about two to four cubs with every litter.