Now that the groundhog has already seen his shadow, it’s time for the next round of winter prognosticators to show their stuff—namely the prairie dogs at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Prospect Park Zoo.
Black tailed prairie dogs are native to the American Great Plains. These rodents do not truly hibernate; visitors are regularly surprised to see the zoo's prairie dogs scampering around on a sunny mid-winter day. The mild winter has given these little animals plenty of opportunity to spend time above ground and children love the exhibit’s special plastic bubbles that allow a nose-to-nose view of these special animals.
When the weather is cold and there is heavy snow, prairie dogs will stay warm in their underground burrows. Before the winter begins, zoo keepers make sure the exhibit is stocked with fresh hay that the prairie dogs will drag underground to line their burrows.
The burrow is vital to the survival of a prairie dog colony. It provides protection from predators and an area for nesting and breeding. Prospect Park Zoo currently has a small colony of 11 animals.
February is the beginning of the breeding season for prairie dogs. Around April when consistently warm temperatures occur, the entire colony will emerge, along with any spring pups.
So along with the early signs of daffodils and crocus, the appearance of Prospect Park Zoo’s prairie dogs seems to indicate the mild winter will continue. These animals do not need to see a shadow to predict the rest of winter—their natural instincts guide them.