The black-tailed prairie dogs at the Saint Louis Zoo in St. Louis, Missouri, have no problem with public displays of affection. In fact, the larger the crowd gathered around their enclosure, the less inhibited they get — kissing, cuddling, and touching like love-crazy teenagers. Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis documenting the behavior of 25 prairie dogs over the summer of 2010 were surprised that the sociable animals would let their guard down in front of humans, who are typically considered one of their predators.
Besame, besame mucho:
- The researchers described the prairie dog “greeting kiss” as similar to a human kiss. Two rodents will touch, mouth to mouth, and sometimes press their tongues together.
- However, the young prairie dogs in the study behaved very differently, the researchers said. They became more tense and were prone to fighting with each other when crowds gathered around.
- Prairie dogs communicate using a complex language of about 100 different barks, mostly chirps and yelps that researchers say convey specific information about lurking predators.