Once found throughout the Great Plains in North America, the black-footed ferret is one of the most endangered animals in the U.S. They depend upon prairie dogs for food, almost exclusively, and use their burrows for homes and raising young. Consequently, their fate is coupled to that of prairie dogs. Due to non-native disease and habitat loss, black-footed ferret populations once declined to near extinction in the 20th century. In 1981, the only populations that existed were in captivity. They were thought to be extinct from the wild, until a dog named “Shep” found one in the wild. Fewer than 500 black-footed ferrets live in the wild located in 17 reintroduction sites. 3,000 are needed though in order to perpetuate the species.
First the Stats…
Scientific name: Mustela nigripes
Weight: Up to 2.5+ lbs.
Length: 16+ inches, plus a 5 inch tail
Lifespan: Up to 10 years
Now on to the Facts!
1.) Approximately 90% of a black-footed ferret’s diet consists of prairie dogs. However, in areas where prairie dogs hibernate during colder months, ferrets will hunt voles, mice, rabbits, ground squirrels, insects, and even birds.
2.) Black-footed ferrets are nocturnal (active at night).
3.) There are only 3 known ferret species: the Siberian polecat, the European polecat, and the black-footed ferret.
4.) The WWF currently protects prairie dog populations from the lethal “sylvatic plague” by killing the fleas that carry the plague’s bacterium and are currently testing a newly developed oral bait vaccine for them. This will help reduce the amount of ferret deaths from eating said prairie dogs.
5.) These ferrets are fossorial (live mostly underground).
But wait, there’s more on the black-footed ferret!
6.) They are solitary except during mating season.
7.) Being very vocal animals, they communicate via loud chatters, hissing, whimpers, and chortles (laughing sound).
Did you know…?
Just like domestic ferrets, wild ferrets perform what is known as the “weasel war dance”. This consists of a variety of hops, often paired with a clucking sound, called “dooking”, a fluffed up tail, and an arched back.
8.) Mating occurs from February – March and results in 1 – 5 kits.