Whoops. Looks like I failed a bit at the keeping up with a blog plan I had set out to complete. My excuse? Only that I was hanging out with prairie dogs 90 hours a week and barely had time to eat or sleep… In any case, my sincerest apologies to those of you that have been tossing and turning and pining day after day for another update on the prairie dogs of Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge. To make up for all of the grief I have caused – I’m starting my return to blogging with a post on… THE BADGER.
Let’s start this harrowing tale from the beginning…
Only a few weeks into research in March, the badger moved into a burrow right in front of John’s tower – this location is at the very heart of our prairie dog colony with easy access to everything. At first, everyone was in a tizzy about this magnificent beast:
“look at it run!” “it’s furry!” “it’s digging!” “badger badger badger!”
And so we all grew to like the badger – she was sassy, fluffy and had charisma. We named her Barbara. Time went on, the research continued and the badger lived happily in her burrow, and everything was well and good in the world.
Until one day, like a slap to the face, she caught a ground squirrel, and then another – snatching them up like candy. It was then that we realized: it was only a matter of time before she was picking off our prairie dog pals.
Barbara sassing it up with her uber fat ground squirrel catch
Instead of feeling intrigued as she scampered about the colony, we began to feel an impending sense of doom. As the warmer weather approached, she got fatter… “Dear god! This badger is pregnant!,” we realized. Then she began using the dried up stream beds that connect all of our areas as a secret network of predator tunnels. Somehow the prairie dogs could sense her in the stream. They would call and run, and stand tippy-toe alert, but there was never a sign of the badger. It was like the J.Lo box office hit: “Anaconda.” Except instead of a swamp there was a lot of sage, and instead of a giant snake there was a badger. It was Badgerconda… and it was only a matter of time…
Finally, after day after day of badger sitings and ground squirrel killings, it happened…
Barbara claimed her first prairie dog victim.
But she decided to lay low after that, and it wasn’t until her babies arrived that the real rampage began. (In her defense, she has four furry little brats to feed, so I guess all is fair in… prairie dogs and badgers?) The arrival of the badger babies also happened to coincide with the arrival of the prairie dog babies. Those poor, naive furry little guys never saw it coming.
Her most common mode of attack is barging out of the stream bed while the babies are feeding away from their burrows. The babies are too stupid to figure out where to run so she just grabs them up with no problem. As of today, she has already eaten nine of my 16 babies, and four of my 12 adults. And those are just my dogs – that’s not even counting all of the babies she’s killed in the other three areas.
Barbara’s victory walk home with her baby prize.
While it’s quite sad to see these prairie dogs that I’ve been watching for months and months killed, it’s also pretty fascinating to see predator-prey dynamics first hand. Alert: I’m about to break it down real nerdy for you: I’d love to see how different environmental factors could change the badger’s behaviors. Would the absence of the man-made streams decrease her success rate? Or perhaps just if the streams were actually filled with water? Has the incredibly dry season impacted her behaviors/health in any way? Is there a correlation between her large litter size and the large number of predations that have occurred? Has all of this time with rodents made me completely insane?
Right now we only have a couple of weeks left out here. All of the data that we came to collect has been gathered, and now we’re literally just sitting and watching for the badger to take out prairie dogs. Riveting stuff.
I will leave you with the only video I could find of a badger attack (Don’t listen to what the guy is saying, and those are definitely ground squirrels). But this is pretty much what we get to see every few days.