Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department / School

Wildlife and Fisheries Science


The purpose of this study was to (1) develop a reference collection and construct a key of plants occurring on prairie dog towns in southwest South Dakota; (2) determine plant species eaten by prairie dogs by analyzing stomach and pellet samples; and (3) relate the availability of plant species and preference in the feeding habits of prairie dogs. Two prairie dog towns of different vegetation were studied. Four burrows in each of two vegetative types for each town were randomly selected. Prairie dogs and pellet samples were collected from these burrows; plant cover was measured in four concentric circles for each burrow. Spring, summer, and winter collections were made in 1973. Slides of leaf, stem, root, flower, and seed material were made for each species of grasses and sedges were identified by the occurrence, position, and shape of epidermal structures: macrohairs, microhairs, prickle hairs, papillae, stomata, long cells, short cells, and silica bodies. Diagnostic characteristics of leaf and stem material of forbs were the occurrence, shape, and position of certain epidermal structures: trichomes, stomata, subsidiary cells, crystals, cell walls, and cuticle. The ability of the investigator to recognize the reference species was demonstrated by analyzing unknown mixtures. Five major plant species were found to be important in stomach and pellet samples: buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides), scarlet globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea), threadleaf sedge (Carex filifolia), blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), and western wheatgrass (Agropyron smithii). Seasonal differences for spring and summer were not significant (P>0.05). Insect matter and seed material were not important (less than 5 percent). Winter food habits showed an increase in importance of pricklypear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha) and western wheatgrass and a decline in the other major species. There was no increase in root material in winter. Prairie dogs were selective in their feeding habits. Three species important in the range but avoided in feeding were threeawn (Aristida fendleriana and A. Longiseta), prairie dogweed (Dyssodia papposa), and horseweed (Conyza ramosissima). Results of this study did not differ greatly from other studies except that buffalograss comprised the greatest percentage of the stomach contents.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Prairie dogs -- Feeding and feeds


Includes bibliographical references (pages 85-88)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


No Copyright - Non-Commercial Use Only