A picnic with prairie dogs in Texas.

Perhaps unduly inspiring by Pat Metheny and Pat Lyles’ musical suggestions, we stopped for lunch in the town of Wichita Falls, Texas. After scoring some tex-mex take-out, a nearby park- and the prospect of basking in sunshine- caught our eye. So everyone clambered out of the spaceship, sleeping bag in tow, to plop down on the prickly grass and fight with the Texas wind over our sauces and napkins.

A few feet away stood a prairie dog enclosure, where at least twenty prairie dogs took turns scurrying, singing, and then quickly scooting back into one of those many tunnels in the ground.

This fellow could not stop singing a song to warn others of our arrival.

As a keystone species, the prairie dog is a critical little friend- one which other species in an ecosystem largely depend upon, such that if it were removed the ecosystem would change drastically. Keystone species usually have at least 170 other living species that depend on their existence. Though the prairie dog appears small and furry, it is a big player on the local scene.

While filling in his nature journal, Max discovered a few questions, most of them centered on whether or not the prairie dog burrows out of his designated park pen. The King and I assured Max that there must be netting to prevent this, since no city park would allow animals to run wild or loose on the nearby baseball field or playground.

But Max didn’t believe us. We laughed and reminded ourselves how much fun it is to have a wild, roving imagination. Max wandered off into the close field, claiming to observe trees and shrub specimens.

“I like these tunnels,” said Milla.

So you can imagine our surprise to hear him shout:

Sure enough, the captive prairie dogs managed to create a vast network of burrows outside their designated city park habitat. No net could be placed deep enough to keep them from burrowing beneath it. The little folks marveled over the handsome prairie dog that peeped out from a burrow, only to disappear upon our approach.

Burrows outside the prairie dog pen.

Micah gazes across the field in search of more prairie dog heads.

Our picnic lunch taught us unexpected lessons about the dogged persistence of the burrowing prairie dog. Of course, Max deserves credit for opening our eyes to think outside the cage that is the box of conventional assumptions.

Life in a Prairie Dog Town printable

Prairie Dogs Handouts
created and used on our journey.

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