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April 21, 2018  |  Login

Black-footed Ferret
Mustela nigripes

What Are They Like?

The black-footed ferret is one of the rarest native mammals in North America. Its slender body measures about 18-24 inches (46-61 centimeters) in length, and it weighs about 2 pounds (1 kilogram). Black-footed ferrets are well-adapted for life on the prairie. Their tan and black colored coats allow them to easily blend into their grassland surroundings. They are also equipped with large front paws and claws that are well suited for digging.

Where Do They Live?

Black-footed ferrets are usually found on shortgrass and midgrass prairies, located amid prairie dog colonies. They inhabited territories from the Great Plains of Alberta and Saskatchewan to northern Mexico, until they became extinct in the wild in 1986. Since then, they have been reintroduced into 15 locations within Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Kansas and Chihuahua, Mexico.

Did You Know?
A single black-footed Ferret may eat over a hundred prairie dogs in one year.

How Are Babies Made?

Mating season for black-footed ferrets takes place from March to April. After a gestation period of about 42 days, a litter of one to seven kits - though most typically three or four ‑ is born. Kits are born completely blind and helpless, and are cared for by the mother until they are two months old.

What Do They Eat?

Black-footed Ferrets feed mainly on prairie dogs, but will also eat rabbits, birds and small rodents.

Did You Know?
Black-footed ferrets are solitary except during breeding season.

What Do They Do?

Black-footed ferrets are primarily nocturnal animals, sleeping about 21 hours a day. They spend their time underground in abandoned prairie dog burrows, sleeping, eating and tending to their young. During the night, they hunt prairie dogs and other small prey.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which keeps a "Red List" of species in danger worldwide, lists the Black-footed Ferret as "endangered." Black-footed ferrets are dependent on prairie dogs as their source of food, and also use their burrows for shelter. Ranchers and farmers consider prairie dogs to be pests, so they hunt and poison them - which is also bad news for the black-footed ferret, which depends on the prairie dog for survival. Habitat loss due to the conversion of prairie land to crop land also poses a serious threat.

What's Being Done?

Defenders of Wildlife is working with several land agencies and owners to help reintroduce black-footed ferrets to public and private lands. The largest and most important ferret site is located in Conata Basin, South Dakota. This 73,000 acre protected area is home to 300 ferrets.


Wild: Black-footed Ferret

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