Parasites of White-Tailed Prairie Dogs

Title – A Non-Invasive Survey of Arthropod and Gastro-Intestinal Parasites of White-Tailed Prairie Dogs, Cynomys leucuras, living near Grand Junction, Colorado

Authors Tracy Cyr and Eric Rechel
Amount awarded $2,500

Few reports concerning parasites of prairie dogs exist in the literature, and most of those are of the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) and associated plague fleas and other skin-dwelling ectoparasites in South Dakota, Eastern New Mexico and Oklahoma (Kietzmann 1987, Pfaffenberger and Wilson 1985, Tyler and Buscher 1975). Few papers report studies of endoparasites of the white-tailed prairie dog, Cynomys leucuras, where the major focus was on shared intestinal protozoan species between rodents (Vetterling 1964, Seville 1997).
Recently, we have noticed that clouds of tiny flies appear to congregate around the openings of burrows known to house local populations of white-tailed prairie dogs, Cynomys leucuras. It is our hypothesis that these flies are biting gnats of either family Psychodidae or Ceratopogonidae (or both). Both groups of flies contain species of veterinary and medical importance not only as nuisance pests, but also as vectors of a variety of pathogens including viruses, protozoa and filarial worms, some with zoonotic potential (Holbrook 1996, Young and Perkins. 1984.)
The Study:We intend to non-invasively survey parasites of two local populations of white-tailed prairie dogs to determine what impact parasite activity might have on the prairie dog health and behavior. We will accomplish this by setting out modified CDC light traps for morning/evening and daytime collections of dipteran parasites, and by collecting scat in areas surrounding burrows in the test area. Samples will be processed and identified in lab space provided at Colorado Mesa University, Dept. of Biological Sciences.