Cute, grass-eating prairie dogs are actually baby squirrel-killers
Prairie dogs might seem cuddly and harmless. But, in truth, they are cold-hearted killers.
Biologist John Hoogland has been observing the grass-eating prairie dogs for more than four decades. For most of his career, he'd never seen them attack another species of animal. Then, for the first time ever, he saw a one savagely kill a baby ground squirrel.
Since then, Hoogland has seen that pattern of behaviour more frequently. And he's also discovered that prairie dogs who kill, and their offspring, are healthier from an evolutionary perspective.
"I was in total amazement to find that killer female prairie dogs have higher fitness than those that do not kill."
Hoogland tells As It Happens host Carol Off -- from his observation tower at the Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico -- that he still isn't clear on why the prairie dogs he's observed are behaving so violently. But he says will continue studying them.
"I get as excited now as I was 43 years ago, when I started," says Hoogland. "The more I love them, the less I know."
The new study on the prairie dogs is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.