Phenomena

Prairie Dog Physics

One challenge facing burrowing mammals is ensuring sufficient oxygen within their den. Prairie dogs achieve this with a clever use of Bernoulli’s principle. They build multiple entrances to their tunnels. One of them, labeled as Entrance A above, is built with a raised mound of dirt, while the other, Entrance B, is not. The raised mound creates an obstacle for the wind to move around, which increases the wind velocity at Entrance A compared to the normal wind speed at Entrance B. From Bernoulli’s principle, we know that a higher velocity means a lower pressure, so there is a decreasing pressure gradient through the tunnel from Entrance B to Entrance A. That favorable pressure gradient pulls fresh air through the prairie dog tunnels, allowing the colony to breathe easy. (Image credits: N. Sharp; original prairie dog photos by jinterwas and J. Kubina; final images shared under Creative Commons; research credit: S. Vogel et al.; h/t to Chris R.)

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