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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Collection: Species Details Lewis and Clark as Naturalists
Mammal    Species Name:
Cynomys ludovicianus
Original name, or synonym is Arctomys ludoviciana Ord, 1815.

Common Name:
Black-tailed Prairie Dog


Boyd County, Nebraska   September 7, 1804

Ground rat, burrowing squirrel, barking squirrel, petite chien, prairie dog

On first encountering a village of prairie dogs, the able crew spent an entire day digging and flooding tunnels in hopes of capturing a number of specimens.  After a full day at work the crew had captured just one live prairie dog, and killed another.  The unlucky rodent was served to the Captains for dinner. 

The following spring of 1805 one prairie dog was included in a shipment to President Thomas Jefferson.  From the Mandan village in today's North Dakota that animal traveled Down the Missouri River to St. Louis, about three weeks.  From St. Louis the cargo was put on another ship and sent down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.  Another ship took the rodent from New Orleans, through the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida, and on up the coast to the Chesapeake Bay and Baltimore.  Finally, more than four months and 4,000 miles later, this prairie dog arrived in Washington, DC alive!  However, Jefferson was still at Monticello, and did not arrive in Washington for another six weeks.  Still, the animal was fit when Jefferson saw it on October 4, 1805.  Jefferson sent the prairie dog on to Independence Hall, Philadelphia, which then housed a natural history museum, and the animal lived on at least until April 5, 1806. 

On that date, Lewis and Clark were traveling up the Columbia River, and heading home after successfully reaching the Pacific Ocean.

For more information about this North American mammal, click here.

Journal Entries:

Twenty five miles above the Niobrara River, Capt. Clark recorded their first sightings of prairie dogs and described their ...  more>>

Sound    prairie dog (0:00, 28 kb)
Credit: Wind Cave National Park
References Guthrie, William, A new system of modern geography: or, a geographical, historical, and commercial grammar, and present state of the several nations of the world...2nd Edition, Johnson and Warner, Philadelphia and Richmond, 1815

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black-tailed prairie dog at burrow entrance

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two black-tailed prairie dogs

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black-tailed prairie dog at pre-hibernation weight

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