More Grassland Wildlife
Hundreds of animals benefit when we keep Great Plains grasslands intact and healthy. Meet a few critters that share the Great Plains with lesser prairie-chickens.
American Burying Beetle
The American burying beetle is the continent's largest carrion beetle. While it once lived in 35 states in the U.S., naturally occurring populations are now found in only six states in the Great Plains (AR, KS, NE, TX, OK, SD) with reintroduced populations found in three other states.
True to its name, the American burying beetle buries itself under vegetation litter or topsoil during the day. It searches for meat during the night.
Keeping prairies intact and free from development is a key strategy for saving this unique species.
FUN FACT: One researcher found that an American burying beetle in Nebraska flew 18 miles in one night.
Texas Horned Lizard
This lizard’s unusual rounded shape have earned it the misnomer of “horny toad.” Texas horned lizard populations mainly eat harvester ants.
When a roadrunner, raptor or other predator comes by, these lizards flatten and spread their bodies to blend in perfectly with the sandy, rocky soil.
FUN FACT: If camouflage doesn’t work, a Texas horned lizard will squirt blood from its eyes to confuse and scare away predators.
These owls are active both night and day. Their long legs allow burrowing owls to sprint across the ground while hunting insects, scorpions, small mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles.
Although these owls can dig their own burrows, they often use burrows abandoned by prairie dogs, badgers or skunks. They line the burrow’s entrance with old excrement from other prairie animals to attract dung beetles, one of their favorite foods.
FUN FACT: When threatened by predators, burrowing owls make a sound similar to a rattlesnake’s rattle.
Ornate Box Turtle
This lovely prairie dweller has vivid yellow and red coloring on its front legs and shell. Adult males also have red eyes. Like the lesser prairie-chicken, this turtle avoids trees.
The ornate box turtle is an omnivore, eating insects, carrion, berries, and prickly pear. In winter, it hibernates below ground in burrows where it can tolerate freezing temperatures for days on end.
FUN FACT: You can estimate the age of an ornate box turtle by counting the annual growth rings on the segments of its shell.
Its genus name, Antilocapra, means “antelope goat”, but the pronghorn is neither antelope nor goat. As the fastest land animal in the Western Hemisphere—clocked at 60 miles per hour!—the pronghorn has few natural predators.
Although pronghorns can leap over 20 feet in a single bound, they rarely jump over obstacles. Instead, they prefer to climb through gaps in fencing.
FUN FACT: The pronghorn’s “horns” are a combination of both antlers that branch and are shed each year (like those of deer) and true horns that are bony and unbranched (like those of cattle or bison).
Badgers are mostly nocturnal predators that eat burrowing rodents, like pocket gophers, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs.
Equipped with webbed feet and long claws, badgers are excellent diggers. Their abandoned burrows become homes for many other species, including burrowing owls.
FUN FACT: Badger dens may be used for many generations. Older dens can have as many as 30 to 40 exit holes and tunnels as deep as 15 feet.
This small game bird is also called a “blue quail” because of its bluish-grey breast, or “cotton-top” because of its white crest. Scaled quail use similar habitat for brood-rearing as lesser prairie-chickens and eat many of the same foods.
As social birds, they are usually found in “coveys” of up to 50 birds. They sleep in circular formations, sitting on the ground with their heads facing outward to detect predators.
FUN FACT: Scaled quail are monogamous—both male and female birds help build the nest and raise their chicks.
Around the world, hundreds of species of dung beetles eat and bury animal poop, which is integral for ecosystem health. They are also an important food source for many wildlife species.
In the Southern Great Plains the most common dung beetles are called “rollers.” They use powerful front legs to shape dung into a ball 10 times their body weight. Then female lays her eggs inside it, then the beetles roll it to a hiding spot and bury it. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat their way out this “brooding ball”.
FUN FACT: Scientists have discovered that at least one species of African dung beetle, Scarabaeus satyrus, uses the Milky Way as a navigation guide.
Western Hognose Snake
This snake is named for its upturned nasal scales. An excellent burrower, it uses its nose to push aside soil to dig for prey like toads or other small animals.
When threatened, the western hognose snake flattens the skin on its neck into a hood much like a cobra, or inflates itself with air to appear larger. If that doesn’t work the snake may “play dead”—convulsing on the ground, then turning belly-up with its mouth open and tongue hanging out—until the danger has passed.
FUN FACT: While not venomous to humans, the western hognose snake’s saliva is slightly toxic to subdue prey.