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