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Prairie Dog Calls by Julian and Sabrina

We visit the zoo a lot. One of the funniest exhibits is the prairie dogs. They're always busy yipping and yapping, but we wondered if they just make noise or if they are communicating. Our DragonflyTV question was: Do prairie dogs make different kinds of barks?

What did we do?
First, we did some research and found out that some of the prairie dogs' natural predators are badgers, coyotes and hawks. We decided to place these predators near the prairie dogs and record their barks with a video camera. We placed both a stuffed badger and coyote near them. Then we played a hawk call CD for the little guys. Last, Sabrina dressed like a giant butterfly to see what type of call they'd make with a creature they had never seen before.

What did we find out?
The prairie dogs barked and responded to every signal except the hawk call, but we couldn't hear much difference between the barks. Then we used a computer program to look at the specific sound wave patterns that we recorded with the camera. Every single bark sound wave was different! We concluded that prairie dogs might be able to hear differences that humans can't hear and that different barks might give clues about what predator is close by.

What can you do?
  • What other ways do animals communicate with each other besides sounds? Visit a zoo and watch certain animals interact with each other for an hour and write down what you see. Is talking or barking the only way animals communicate?
  • In the Spring, learn to recognize different animal calls. If you live near a pond or lake, listen for frog and toad calls. Learn the calls for different birds. How early in the year do the calls begin? Do you hear the calls all spring or summer long? What do they mean?
  • Does your dog or cat communicate with you? Write down whether you notice a difference in pitch when your dog or cat wants to go outside, eat or be scratched.
  • Use this zoo investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!
more resources
More on Communication in the Animal Kingdom

Go to the DFTV Boards, and tell us about your science investigation.
whiz quiz
How do prairie dogs recognize each other?

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