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Wed, April 08

Northern Arizona prairie dog burrows dusted to combat plague

Fleas found in a prairie dog colony north of Williams have tested positive for Plague. (Stock photo)

Fleas found in a prairie dog colony north of Williams have tested positive for Plague. (Stock photo)

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — After fleas tested positive for plague last month near the Red Lake area north of Williams, the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD), together with Kaibab National Forest, recently applied insecticidal dust to prairie dog holes for fleas.

The areas that were treated with dust are near Williams and in the Flagstaff-area.

Plague-infected fleas were also recently found at an AZGFD research plot at Garland Prairie near Flagstaff. Plague is a potentially fatal disease that could eradicate prairie dog colonies and other infected animals.

“Unfortunately, it has been a very busy year for plague,” said Holly Hicks, a small mammals biologist with AZGFD. “An infestation can prove detrimental for prairie dog populations because they are highly communal animals, and the disease spreads easily in a colony. That is why it is important for us to identify an infected colony and dust it with insecticide to reduce the risk of infection to other animals and people.”

Crews recently dusted prairie dog holes across 664 acres near Red Lake about 10 miles north of Williams.

On Sept. 3, an AZGFD biologist found a deceased prairie dog, which tested positive for plague near Garland Prairie. To prevent the spread, an additional 800 acres were dusted, including around plots currently being used for sylvatic plague vaccine research.

The disease is carried by fleas, which spread the disease through host animals. While prairie dogs are host to fleas, the fleas can remain in the burrow after their host dies and attach themselves to the next host that comes along, which may or may not be another prairie dog.

Badgers, coyotes and foxes are also host to fleas and are more likely to cause a widespread outbreak of the disease since they travel further distances.

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