Why Do Prairie Dogs Kiss?

Prairie dogs kissing

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 the reason for this unique behavior.  

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

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

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 with one another. 

Prairie dogs kissing

The behavior of kissing is associated with their family groups.  The family groups are the basic units of the prairie dogs 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 in they are members of the same family. 

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

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

Prairie Dog

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 coming in to their territory.  Sometimes prairie dogs kiss first, and then will fight.  This behavior is because the kissing makes them realize they are not in the same family group.

Prairie dogs are herbivores. For information on what other animals are herbivores, see this guide I wrote.

Why Do Prairie Dogs Kiss?

Prairie dogs use the behavior of kissing to distinguish friend from foe.  When prairie dogs meet with one another out, either on the range or at the burrow, they will kiss. 

Prairie dogs kissing

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 each other, or just part ways.  However, if they realize 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.  Just like when we meet friends, we shake hands or kiss the other person. 

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

Prairie Dog

A prairie dog kissing another is a sign to know who belongs in their group and who 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 as a means 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 cost defend his territory.  

Ever wondered why otters hold hands? Me too, so I wrote this article.

Prairie dogs kissing

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

How do Prairie Dogs Behave?

During intimate kissing, prairie dogs are greeting and identifying each other.  The mother will approach a litter, and will 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 Dog

Prairie dogs also sometimes have a hostile kiss.  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 quite dangerous, where, rather than kissing, the two males will engage in a fight.

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

Prairie dogs kissing

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

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

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

Most prairie dogs stick to their own family groups and avoid interactions with strangers.  When new prairie dogs come to a family, the stranger is easily noticed. They will kiss, but afterwards will fail to cuddle and may fight.

Prairie Dog

Are Prairie Dogs Affectionate?

Prairie dogs are very intelligent and social mammals, and can be affectionate.  Prairie dogs are one of many mammals which 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 very unusual behavior among mammals. Although they seem to be kissing, they are touching each others front teeth. Kissing is a prairie dogs way of recognizing other family members.

Where Can You See Prairie Dogs Kissing?

In North America, it is not easy to see prairie dogs in the wild.  Prairie dogs will from larger animals and humans.  There are various zoos in Norh America where you can see them.

Prairie Dog

Some of the include Henry zoo in Madison, San Francisco zoo in San Francisco, and San Diego zoo.

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 an affectionate behavior.  However, if both are males, or if they are not from the same family, they can turn hostile to each other. 

Prairie dogs will engage in chasing 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.

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

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

Prairie dogs are one of North Americas 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.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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