Prairie Dogs and other Squirrels

Red squirrel with a pine cone
The primary food source for red squirrels are the seeds of ponderosa pine trees. Harvesting pine cones helps distribute new seeds throughout the forest.

NPS / Avery Locklear

The most common mammal sighting, squirrels are an ever-present part of the ecosystem at Devils Tower National Monument. These critters include the red squirrels and least chipmunks which chatter at you as you pass on the Tower Trail, and the hundreds of black-tailed prairie dogs that populate the floodplain near the Belle Fourche River.

Squirrels - (Sciuridae):

Commonly seen squirrels:

 
The least chipmunk
Least chipmunks are smaller than their eastern counterparts, with longer tails. Their energetic antics are entertaining to watch as they scurry around the boulders at the base of the Tower.

NPS photo

Least chipmunk (Tamias minimus)

Quick facts:

  • 7-9 inches long; brownish color with five stripes on back and sides
  • Carry nuts and seeds in cheek pouches
  • Burrow beneath rocks, logs and shrubs for shelter
  • Not true hibernators; go into winter torpor and occasionally arouse to eat stored food
  • Have five or six young which leave the nest around four weeks old
 
Red squirrel perched on a tree branch
Red squirrels are common in the ponderosa pine forests around the Tower

NPS / Michael Wheeler

Red squirrel
(Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

Quick facts:

  • 11­–15 inches long, 6.7–7 ounces.
  • Brownish-red on its upper half, dark stripe above white ventral side, light eye ring, bushy tail
  • Loud, long chirp to advertise presence; much more pronounced in the fall.
  • Found in the ponderosa pine forest around the Tower
  • Eat conifer seeds, conifer tree buds, fungi, some insects
  • Preyed on by coyotes, raptors, hawks, canid and felid species
  • Breed February through May; have one litter of 3–5 young
  • Very territorial animals; territorialism ensures winter food supply
  • Caches pine cones in middens, which can be used for years and may be 15 by 30 feet

 
Eastern fox squirrel
Fox squirrels are named for their over-sized tails, which resemble those of foxes. At the park, they are commonly seen bouncing through the grass around the picnic area, foraging for acorns.

NPS photo

Eastern fox squirrel
(Sciurus niger)

Quick facts:

  • 16-30 inches long; highly variable in coloration (reddish-brown to grey or black)
  • Can rotate feet by 180 degrees to descend tree trunks head-first
  • Primarily forages on the ground for nuts and seeds; builds nests in trees
  • Will cache food in the ground for winter survival
  • Known to eat insects, fungi, tree sap, birds and bird eggs
  • Can breed between November and February and between April and July.
  • Give birth to 2 or 3 young
 
Prairie dogs on alert
Prairie dogs are often seen standing on their hind legs. This allows them to better scan for dangers that may enter the town. While above ground, about half of their time is spent "on the lookout."

NPS photo

Black-tailed prairie dog
(Cynomys ludovicianus)

Quick facts:

  • 14-17 inches long and weight 1-3 pounds
  • Name derives from term by early French explorers meaning "little dogs" (petits chiens)
  • Create large communities called "towns"
  • Form social groups called coteries which consist of one adult male, several adult females, and their offspring
  • Have a complex vocal communication system to warn community of predatory threats
  • Feed on grasses and forbs which also provide most of their water
  • Will clip tall plants to increase sight and safety within community
  • Prefer short-grass prairie ecosystems; will populate areas that have been over-grazed
  • Mating season is from March to early April; a female is fertile only once per year
  • Give birth to 1-6 pups
  • Although less active during winter, they are not true hibernators

For more information, please see our Prairie Dog page!

Last updated: February 18, 2018

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 10
Devils Tower, WY 82714

Phone:

(307) 467-5283 x635
Devils Tower National Monument Phone Number

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