Friday, April 24, 2020

U is for Utah prairie dogs (Folktales of Endangered Species)

Welcome to the 2020 A to Z blogging challenge! This year my theme is Folktales of Endangered Species. I am researching cool traditional stories about rare, fascinating animals - to raise awareness of what we might lose if we don't get our collective shit together. Enjoy!

Species: Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens)

Status: Endangered

The man saved by prairie dogs
Jicarilla Apache legend*

According to legend, forty-four warriors set out on a journey, forty-three died, and the last one was barely alive, dying of thirst. He finally collapsed by a prairie dog hole. The prairie dogs came out to see what happened, and asked him why he was lying there. When they learned he is dying of thirst, they took him into their home and gave him water from a small vessel - but no matter how much he drank, the vessel never emptied. They sent him on his way with the vessel. This is how people learned that prairie dogs have power over water and rain.
(One version of this story ends with "Prairie dog gave him no songs or ceremony. He just took pity on him and saved him from death.")

*Okay so I'm cheating here because the habitat of the Utah prairie dogs don't overlap with Jicarilla Apache lands, but I couldn't find any prairie dog legends that are more local. My resources are currently limited...

Sources: Read versions of the story here or here.

How can I help?

Read about conservation efforts here, here, here, or here.

Have you ever seen prairie dogs in the wild? I only ever met them in a zoo...


  1. The prairie dogs should have learned right then and there this insatiable beast should be allowed to die right there. Look what came after...

  2. I loved the prairie dogs that lived in the field we'd cross on our walks to school. They were little little sentinels. Don't their tails flick when they communicate, or did I make that up in my childhood?

  3. Interesting tale! And, yes, I've seen prairie dogs in person. They are adorable and VERY alert. A few years ago, scientists managed to decode their language. Apparently those cute squeaks they make tell their fellow prairie dogs what type of animal you are, if you're dangerous. They even can say what color shirt you are wearing!

    I always love your posts!

    ~Tui Snider, @TuiSnider - Historic Cemeteries & Symbolism from A to Z

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  5. I deleted my first comment because there were so many typos. Here it is corrected.
    They look like squirrels without tails.

    I wonder how they got him down in their little hole in the ground.

  6. Not in the wild, in an enclosure that was built to be like their natural habitat. People had to crawl around in tunnels and could peek up. They were used to it, and didn't mind! I had no idea they were endangered.

  7. Very interesting. Indian mythology also makes references to vessels that never get emptied- its called "Akshay Patra" here.

  8. Cute little one, looks like a marmot(or groundhog?).

  9. With all the wonderful tales you dig up and share here Csenge, you're allowed a little cheating:) All is forgiven.
    Another tale of the kindness of animals.

  10. As a kid the first time I traveled to Utah, I discovered prairie dogs. They were in a field across from the where we were, and there were dozens of them poking their heads in and out of their holes. I'd never seen anything like it, and was entirely mesmerized.

  11. Yes I have see prairie dogs out scampering around and dashing into their burrows....cute little guys.

  12. They look so much like a squirrel! And I wonder how humans thanked them for their service.

  13. Love that last sentence.

    The Old Shelter - Living the Twenties

  14. Interesting creature -- looks a lot like a Meerkat :-)

    An A-Z of Faerie: Werehyena