The Loh Down On Science

You'll find this little rodent's behavior adorable!

Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park, Montana

A prairie dog mid-yip!

Do prairie dogs do The Wave?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Saying, Yup!  Or rather Yip!

Prairie dogs, which are actually a type of rodent, live in towns of dozens of families.  They share resources, watch each others’ backs – And, sometimes, do something that humans reserve for sports events.  An individual springs into the air, forelimbs held high, and screams "WEE-oo" as if celebrating a touchdown.  This triggers neighbors to do the same, and it spreads through town like The Wave through a stadium.  What gives?

Enter James Hare from the University of Manitoba.  He videotaped prairie dog towns in Canada and the U.S. and noticed a pattern.  Prairie dogs that initiated the so-called yip behavior foraged more than usual right afterwards.  And they kept grazing so long as others caught the wave.  When a wave fizzled? They stopped eating.

Hare thinks yips measure group vigilance.  Only alert neighbors can participate.  Spark a strong wave?  Folks are paying attention to their surroundings.  Any hungry predators will be spotted.  

So it's a good time to eat some bugs!  Hot dogs with yellow mustard optional.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


blog comments powered by Disqus