Why do prairie dogs do the wave?

University of Manitoba researchers look into why prairie dogs bolt upright and chirp to each other.
Prairie dogs assess the response time of others in their community by determining how long it takes for others to chirp back. (Courtesy Darlene Stack)

It's one of nature's cutest chain reactions, when one prairie dog leaps up to chirp and others follow.

Now, new research from the University of Manitoba explains why they do it.

James Hare, a professor and associate head of biological sciences at the U of M, said they want to see how much they can rely on their neighbouring prairie dogs.

“They're actually probing them, essentially, for how aware they are of what's going on around them," he said.

"So they're assessing the response of others based on how long it takes for others to respond, and the number responding as well.”

Hare hopes there's more respect for prairie dogs now that research shows they are clearly aware of the knowledge and intent of others in their community.