Prairie Dog Rapture? Repost

Reid Dickie

It’s been floating around for years and landed a few days back in my sidebar. I mean this painting of the prairie dogs with their paws and heads raised performing en masse what appears to be a ritual. Titled where I’ve seen it as Prairie Dog Rapture, I got curious about it. Do prairie dogs do this?

The painting is by a contemporary artist named Anthony Falbo, a multi-stylist who sometimes paints in Dali style, sometimes cubist, other times representational. His God Art site gives you the gist and gamut of his work. I learned that the artist’s actual name for the painting is Praising Prairie Dogs, giving it a slight twist, otherwise Anthony wasn’t much help.

Since image is the language of the soul, any picture on the internet will create its own mythology, as did this one. Some people stated and many believed that every morning and every evening prairie dogs stop whatever it is they are doing and spend anywhere from 20 minutes to half an hour grouped in this pose honouring the sunrise and sunset.

Over the decades, several of my long treks, including two this past summer, took me into southwestern Saskatchewan and Grasslands National Park. GNP has two large dog towns, which comprise the only Canadian habitat for prairie dogs, those varmints whose burrows broke the legs of horses and cattle. Easily accessible, the dog towns are part of the self-guiding driving tour the Park offers to visitors. Linda and I visited there together one year and spent hours watching the funny little critters run and play, hug and kiss each other and bark like, well, prairie dogs. I thought if anyone in the country can tell me if prairie dogs do sunrise and sunset rituals, they’d be at Grasslands. And they were.

Pat Fargey, a species-at-risk biologist at GNP, returned my call and was curious about the picture. Without seeing it and based on my description, Pat thought the only time prairie dogs made that gesture was when they were barking which was usually not formal as in the picture. I scoured internet images to find a prairie dog making the gesture.

There’s the gesture – prairie dog barking! It does have an element of Hallelujah in it, to be sure and I can see how Falbo adapted the pose turning it into praise. If prairie dogs spend an hour a day gesturing like this for whatever reason, that behaviour would be a well-known part of the prairie dog description and wouldn’t need a painting on the internet to suddenly bring it to light.

Nonetheless, the image remains evocative, even edifying. As a group, they share joy and passion, prompting me to imagine them about to sing as a choir of little prairie dog voices and wonder what hymn they picked and what it sounds like. Let’s listen…


Filed under Art Actions, Critters, grasslands national park, Parks, Saskatchewan

3 responses to “Prairie Dog Rapture? Repost

  1. Richard Lewis

    I live in a rural area at the foot of Mt Garfield close to Grand Junction, CO.
    We have many white tailed dogs here. They do gather at sunset, it is quite amazing as their inder belly color reflects the setting sun making them much more noticeable for a long distance.
    The body language you are seeing is when the “it’s clear or no predaters, it’s ok ” call is given. There are times that others will chime in with the same call and sometimes not the body language.
    I don’t see it as a ritual, just that peace is present.

    Find a copy of the BBC Natural World 2010 documentery – Prairie Dogs Talk of the Town. You’ll be suprised to find out that they have a very sophisicated communication that scientists are now saying rivals all other animals, except humans.

  2. Thanks for the info. I saw a slightly whimsical bronze sculpture of a prairie dog in exactly this pose, and was completely taken by its rapt expression and graceful paws … as if it were conducting an orchestra … or doing tai chi! The artist told me how prairie dogs do this at sunset, and that she had heard it might be a way they had of cooling themselves at the end of the day. In any case, I was transfixed, and if I had that much expendable income, I would have gladly lugged it home. No prairie dogs where I live, but that doesn’t lessen the wonder, as you so aptly put it in your last paragraph — “…imagine them about to sing … and wonder what hymn they picked and what it sounds like.” Beautiful.

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