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Why Do Prairie Dogs Kiss?

I visit many zoos in North America, and at San Diego Zoo they have a great exhibition. When I was there last time, I kept seeing prairie dogs kiss and wanted to know why this unique behavior was.  

Prairie dogs kiss to greet each other. Prairie dogs are territorial, and the kissing behavior shows them if they are from the same family group.

Prairie dogs are amazing creatures; this behavior is not found in many mammals. I wanted to learn more about why they do this, which I have written below.

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Prairie dogs kissing

Do Prairie Dogs Kiss?

Prairie dogs do kiss each other. Prairie dogs greet each other by kissing. They kiss by touching each other noses and locking their teeth. 

The behavior of kissing is associated with their family groups. The family groups are the basic units of the prairie dog society. Members of the same group inhabit the same territory.  

Kissing occurs between members of the same group. Members of the same group will also groom each other if they are members of the same family. 

Prairie dogs are one of many animals that use this behavior.   It is thought that kissing and cuddling behavior occurs more often when watched.  

Kissing between prairie dogs is similar to human beings. The two rodents touch their mouths together and sometimes briefly press their tongues together.   After kissing, they accompany other affectionate behaviors such as playing or grooming one another.  

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Prairie dogs kissing

Even though prairie dogs kiss, they don’t all get along. Prairie dogs will fiercely defend their territories from social groups that live next to each other. 

A prairie dog group will not allow prairie dogs from different social groups to enter their territory. Sometimes prairie dogs kiss first and then will fight. This behavior is because kissing makes them realize they are not in the same family group.

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Why Do Prairie Dogs Kiss?

Prairie dogs use the behavior of kissing to distinguish friends from foe. When prairie dogs meet with one another outside, they will kiss.

They lock teeth with each other at this time. The closing of the teeth allows the prairie dogs to determine if they are members of the same group or not.  

If both prairie dogs realize they are from the same family, they will either play or groom or just part ways. However, if they know they are not from the same family, they engage in an aggressive tussle or a high-speed chase.

The kissing behavior of a prairie dog is their way of saying hello to each other. Like when we meet friends, we shake hands or kiss the other person. 

Prairie dogs are very social animals. They cannot pass without greeting, especially if they are from the same family. They greet each other by the act of kissing.

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Prairie Dog

A prairie dog kissing another is a sign of knowing who belongs in their group and is a possible invader to their territory. Prairie dogs live in social groups consisting of between seven to fifteen individuals. 

Prairie dogs also live in subgroups, referred to as wards. The family exists within these wards. Prairie dogs kiss to know if they belong to the same ward.

The kissing behavior is also used to mark territory for the males. The average prairie dog territory takes up from as little as 0.05 to 1.0 hectares.  

The boundaries of these territories have well-established borders that coincide with physical barriers like rocks and trees. The male prairie dog will, at all costs, defend his territory.  

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Prairie dogs kissing

They will kiss if they are at the edge of their territory and meet another prairie dog. If the male realizes it is another male after the initial kiss greeting, they will alter their behavior. 

The prairie dogs will start staring at each other, making false charges, flare their tales, chatter their teeth, and sniff each other’s perianal scent glands.  

Prairie dogs kissing is a behavior that allows them to know who their family members are. They also use this to avoid interactions with strangers. 

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How do Prairie Dogs Behave?

During intimate kissing, prairie dogs greet and identify each other. The mother will approach a litter and kiss every baby to determine if they are all hers. Female prairie dogs also meet at a burrow entrance during their daily foraging. They will kiss to confirm if they belong to the same family.

Prairie dogs also sometimes have hostile kisses. This is where one or both of the individuals involved will jerk or jump away from the kiss. They may respond with an agitated squeak or will sometimes slap the other prairie dog. 

The most hostile kiss is between males over a territorial dispute. This can be pretty dangerous, where, rather than kissing, the two males will engage in a fight.

All prairie dogs, adult males, females, and juveniles, engage in the behavior of kissing.  

Prairie dogs kissing

Prairie dogs, especially males, seem to enjoy the attention of a crowd. As the crowd’s size increases, the adult feels more relaxed and spends less time looking out for potential threats.

When more people watch the prairie dogs, the adults become much more affectionate, kissing and touching. They also fight less, even if the other prairie dog they are kissing is not a family member.  

Young prairie dogs seem to do the opposite. They become tenser with a large audience. They also fight more while kissing less. The only possible reason for the immature prairie dogs’ behavior is that reason; they are behaving like a youngster. 

Most prairie dogs stick to their family groups and avoid interactions with strangers. The stranger is easily noticed when new prairie dogs come to a family. They will kiss but afterward will fail to cuddle and may fight.

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Are Prairie Dogs Affectionate?

Prairie dogs are very intelligent and social mammals and can be affectionate. Prairie dogs are one of many mammals that are not advisable to keep as pets. Prairie dogs are territorial, which means they will protect the house, even from your friends who come around. 

Male prairie dogs are more aggressive than females. This is associated with the male being the protector of the faction in the wild. Prairie dogs are only affectionate to their family members and no one else.

Why Do Prairie Dogs Greet Each Other?

As we have discussed, prairie dogs have a unique way of greeting each other. This is a very unusual behavior among mammals. Although they seem to kiss, they touch each other’s front teeth. Kissing is a prairie dog’s way of recognizing other family members.

Do Prairie Dogs Fight?

Yes, prairie dogs will engage in a fight, especially when defending their territory. Prairie dogs will initially kiss, which comes across as affectionate behavior. However, if both are males or are not from the same family, they can turn hostile to each other. 

Prairie dogs will chase one another after kissing and realizing they do not belong to the same family. The prairie dog that has been defeated will run away as the other prairie dog chases them into their burrow.

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Prairie dogs fighting
Prairie dogs fighting – Do not mess with them!!

This chasing behavior is the same case when one male invades another male’s territory. The aggressive prairie dog will chase the other one into the tunnels to establish dominance. The aggressive prairie dog will kick dirt into the mouth of the burrow once he has pursued them in.

Prairie dogs are one of North America’s keystone species. If you would like to find out what other animals are, I have written an article which you may find interesting. You can find it here.