Black-tailed prairie dog. Photo: Schönbrunn zoo
Schönbrunn zoo's newly born black-tailed prairie dogs have made their first trips out of their burrows into the enclosure at Austria's largest and oldest zoo.
According to a press release from Schönbrunn zoo, their new family of baby prairie dogs have grown enough since their birth in April to begin to explore their surroundings.
"At birth, prairie dogs weigh only about 15 grams, and are still naked, blind and deaf. Nearly two months later, they are weaned from their mother. Now they even nibble plants," said zoo director Dagmar Schratter.
Prairie dogs live very sociably in family groups that often join together to form large colonies. They groom each other's fur, play with each other and look after the pups together.
At first glance, you might confuse prairie dogs with marmots. However, they are native to North America and at about 30cm long they are only half the size and much slimmer than our Alpine inhabitants.
Prairie dogs are a type of ground squirrel, and are thus distantly related to the marmots. But in contrast to these other animals, prairie dogs don't whistle to warn their colony from an enemy, but make a barking alarm call, from which they are named.
They are known for their underground burrows. In the vast grasslands and steppe landscapes which are their usual home, they find refuge from birds of prey, foxes and coyotes and winter protection from snow and cold.
Prairie dogs eat mostly grasses and herbs. As the so-called "lawnmower of the prairie", these rodents play an important role, because they maintain the landscape. Unfortunately, they were for a long time seen as pests by farmers, and were killed. Today they inhabit only an estimated two percent of their original native habitats.
Schönbrunn zoo is the oldest in the world, having been established as an imperial menagerie in 1752.