With a Nod to St. Valentine

With due acknowledgement of todays date and for those wild romantics amongst us, I would like to draw attention to Ms. Gill’s report in today’s BBC Earth News on Prairie Dog romance. A very sociable species, they greet each other warmly, showing affection by kissing and nuzzling. The study reported on was carried out at St Louis Zoo, so these black-tailed rodents were denied above ground privacy and were used to numerous human voyeurs.

As good little troopers, the adults kissed and nuzzled for the visitors. The more the visitors crowded in to watch the performance, the more the kissing and nuzzling went on. These kisses weren’t just token pecks on the cheek. No, they were serious about it. Tongues being involved on frequent occasions.

The youngster, though, were not such consummate performers as their more experience elders and tended to tense up and squabble. Stage fright had intruded its ugly head. With continuing public support, and mentoring from their elder colleagues, they will make it through in time.

In their natural habitat, not that there is much natural prairie left, so perhaps it should be ‘in the wild’, they spend much more time watching for predators than kissing and cuddling. Prof. Slobodchikoff and his team have spent over 30 years eavesdropping on Prairie Dog conversation and have managed to decode some of what is one of the more sophisticated of mammalian languages. The barking is nuanced, and there are different ‘words’ for different predators and even have ‘words’ for different features of these predators. I guess ‘Eagle at 4 o’clock high’ would have to be clearly distinguishable from ‘Coyote skulking in the brush’ if they wish to kiss their cousins later that day.

Leave a Reply