Deadly Plague is Killing America's Prairie Dogs
by Patricia Cazares, age 12
For the past five decades, scientists have been baffled by a deadly plague that continues to infect colonies of prairie dogs in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. This plague aggressively attacks colony after colony of prairie dogs; but recently discoveries showed that grasshopper mice are the likely culprit.
“They mostly eat seeds and insects. If they find a dead prairie dog, they burrow into its carcass and eat out the organs,” says Dan Salkeld, a wildlife disease specialist at Stanford University in California. Dog fleas hop onto the grasshopper mouse as it feeds. It then carries the fleas to another prairie dog, infecting it with the plague.
What confused scientists wasn’t the source of the infection, but how the plague spread to other prairie dog colonies, even after all of the dogs had died.
Because prairie dogs are territorial there is little traffic between colonies, but it is now known that mice are the deadly carriers.
Scientists plan measures to control the mass decimation of prairie dog colonies in the Rockies and Great Plains regions.
[Source: USA Today]