Cat Ferguson, ISNS Contributor | January 17, 2014 01:52am ET
(ISNS) -- The term "keystone species" was made for prairie dogs. These charismatic critters build vast underground towns across the plains, creating housing for themselves and many other animals. One of the squatters is the Western burrowing owl, a tiny insectivore that makes its home on the outskirts of prairie dog colonies.
New research suggests that the owls don't just gain a free home from the prairie dogs, but they also eavesdrop on the prairie dogs' sophisticated alarm calls, which scientists have described as a rudimentary form of grammar. The owls, less than a foot high, sneak tips about lurking predators from their highly vocal housemates, according to a study in next month’s Ethology.
Burrowing owls tend to seek out active prairie dog colonies in Colorado, where the study was conducted.