Animal of the Week! What is a Potgut?

I hadn’t heard of a potgut until living in Utah for many years.  My boyfriend (now husband) and I were at the top of one of the lifts at the Sundance Ski Resort late in the season and there was the cutest little prairie dog looking thing sitting up by a picnic bench waiting for a handout.  Mark says, “hey, look at the potgut”.  I say, “what the heck are you talking about?”.  He says, “the potgut”.  I say, “you mean the prairie dog”.  And the conversation continued with my insisting it was a prairie dog and Mark correcting me, repeatedly.  There was even a bet thrown in there for good measure, which I summarily lost.  I pretty much insisted I was right until we had time to get to a computer and look it up.  Good thing I’m not stubborn.

Technically, a potgut is neither potgut nor prairie dog, but is the nickname for a Uinta ground squirrel (Spermophilus armatus) that is cute and full of personality.  They are hungry little buggers and even if you don’t feed them and they love racing up to you, checking you out and scampering away.  They’ll do this for a while before they (or you) get bored with it.  Potguts have a very limited range, living only in southwestern Montana, western Wyoming, southeastern Idaho and northern central Utah.  There seem to be an abundance of them in the Uinta and Wasatch mountains if you look at the right time of year.

You don’t get to see potguts for very long because they both hibernate in winter and aestivate (become dormant) in summer.  Adults begin aestivation in July and by September you won’t see any potguts above ground.  Smart critters, that’s when the snow starts falling around here.  After aestivation, they hibernate and don’t come out until March or April.  This means that potguts only remain active above ground about three and a half months out of the year.  No wonder they’re so hungry!

Potguts are not endangered or threatened, though some farmers probably wouldn’t mind if their numbers dwindled.  They are crop munchers and they love veggies and seeds.  Right now, it’s time for them to come out of hiding, so if you live in an area with potguts, keep an eye out for them.

photo courtesy of naturfoto

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4 Responses to Animal of the Week! What is a Potgut?

  1. Kathy says:

    Katie, thank you for the info about the Pot Guts. My husband and I live at Strawberry Reservoir and I love to feed the fuzzy guts (pot guts) They train quite easily. I’ve trained them to eat Ritz Crackers out of my hand but this summer they learned to climb the pine tree after watching the chipmunks get the sunflower seeds out of the bird feeder. They prefer the expensive seeds to the generic brand crackers. It wasn’t unusual to have 6 pot guts on the bird feeder at one time while others ate off of the ground, except that sneaky one that would get into the garage and eat right out of the sack. They aren’t as agile as the chipmunks and tend to fall out of the tree sometimes but their comical to watch.

    I’ve trained a few to play patty cake with me. I don’t know how I’ll explain the bite on my finger to my doctor should that ever happen.

    They go into hibernation about mid August but will dig through 4 feet of snow the first of March to check out the conditions and see if there are any sage brush to eat yet.

  2. Summer says:
    “The cute little Potguts”….although I am a lover of all living creatures.
    I enjoyed your article, having lived in Park City for awhile and trying to survive the Potgut population with dogs!!

  3. Pingback: Evolution 2013– Natural History « Why Evolution Is True

  4. Tracy Waters says:

    Ha – I was just explaining potguts to someone and sent them a link to your blog without reading it 😉 I just went back and discovered your reference to Sundance. I worked there for several years and was constantly amused by the number of them. The whole front lawn (Ray’s Lawn) may collapse one day given the potgut infrastructure that must exist 🙂 There were a couple of dogs that would come down from the private homes in the summer; they would spend the whole day watching and chasing them. I would take them water as they would be panting like crazy but too obsessed to leave for even a moment. At the end of the day, their owner would come and collect them and take them home – it was awesome 🙂

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