Black-Footed Ferret Scientific Classification
KingdomAnimaliaPhylumChordataClassMammaliaOrderCarnivoraFamilyMustelidaeGenusMustelaScientific NameMustela nigripes
Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Status
Black-Footed Ferret Locations
Black-Footed Ferret Facts
PreyPrairie dogs, ground squirrels, birds, insectsName Of YoungKitGroup Behavior
Fun FactBlack footed ferrets are the only ones native to North America.Estimated Population Size206 mature individualsBiggest ThreatHabitat loss, trappingMost Distinctive FeatureBlack maskOther Name(s)American polecat, Prairie dog hunterGestation Period41-43 daysLitter Size3-4HabitatGrasslands, plainsPredatorsBadgers, coyotes, golden eagles, bobcats, and owlsDietCarnivoreTypeMammalCommon NameBlack Footed FerretLocationNorth America
Black-Footed Ferret Physical Characteristics
Skin TypeHairLifespan48 monthsWeight1.5-2.5 lbsLength18-24 inchesAge of Sexual Maturity1 yearAge of Weaning4 months
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“The black-footed ferret is the only ferret native to North America”
The habitat of Black-footed ferrets includes a range extending over the plains of Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, and Arizona. They are carnivores with a diet consisting mostly of prairie dogs. These mammals have a long, sleek body that allows them to easily fit into tunnels and burrows. They are solitary animals with a lifespan of 3 to 4 years in the wild.
5 Incredible Black-Footed Ferret Facts!
- Big talkers: These vocal animals communicate with one another by chattering, hissing, and whining
- Sleepyheads: They sleep 21 hours each day and are only active at night
- A prairie dog hunter: These ferrets are expert at pursuing their prairie dog prey including following them into their own burrows
- Solitary animals: They live alone most of the year except during the breeding season
- Back from extinction: These ferrets were believed to be extinct until a small group of them were found in 1981
Black-Footed Ferret Scientific Name
Mustela nigripes is the scientific name of the black-footed ferret. Mustela is a Latin word meaning weasel while nigripes translates to black-footed. This animal is sometimes called an American polecat.
It belongs to the Mustelidae family and the class Mammalia.
Black-Footed Ferret Appearance & Behavior
The black-footed ferret has a long, slender body with white to cream-colored fur on its back along with black feet and a black-tipped tail. One of the most notable facts about its appearance is the black fur on its face that makes it look like it’s wearing a mask. This ferret aka American polecat measures 18 to 24 inches in length with a tail 5 to 6 inches long. An adult black-footed ferret weighs an average of 2 pounds. Males are normally bigger than females. As a comparison, a 24-inch-long ferret is equal to 11 golf tees lined up end to end. A 2-pound black-footed ferret is equal in weight to 1 ½ basketball. The heaviest black-footed ferret weighs in at 2.5 pounds.
The black-footed ferret has many adaptations that help it to survive in its habitat. For one, its wiry, slender body allows it to slip into a prairie dog burrow in pursuit of its prey. Its large eyes help this mammal to see in the dark. Another one of its amazing adaptations is a strong sense of smell. This ferret finds prey and navigates its environment by detecting the scents all around it. The cream-colored coat of this ferret helps it to blend into its habitat so it can hide from predators. This animal’s sharp claws are used to dig into the ground to create a new burrow or expand an existing one. A strong jaw helps this ferret to capture and hold a prairie dog. When one ferret spots a predator near its burrow, the animal starts to chatter and hiss to signal danger to other ferrets nearby.
Black-footed ferrets are solitary animals. But, when they do form a group it’s called a business. There are usually 3 or more ferrets in a business. These mammals are shy but may become aggressive during mating season.
Why is the Black-Footed Ferret Endangered?
Decades ago, the population of the black-footed ferret was so low the species was thought to be extinct. Their numbers were greatly decreased by a plague that ran through the prairie dog population. It is known as the sylvatic plague and is carried by fleas. It kills 90 percent of the prairie dogs that become infected. When the prairie dog population goes down it takes away the main component in the diet of the black-footed ferrets. As a result, these ferrets began to die off in large numbers.
Habitat loss is another reason why the population of the black-footed ferret has fallen so low. Expansion of farmland destroys many of the prairie dog burrows where these ferrets live.
One of the most amazing facts is a small population of black-footed ferrets was discovered in 1981. With the help of captive breeding programs and more community education, this ferret’s population slowly began to increase. However, officially, the black-footed ferret is still Endangered.
Black-footed ferrets are native to North America. They live in a range that includes Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, and South Dakota. They live in a temperate location of plains and grasslands. These ferrets don’t migrate. But, they do spend more time in their burrows during the winter season.
Predators and Threats
These animals are carnivores. The diet of this ferret consists mainly of prairie dogs. In fact, this prairie dog hunter eats approximately 100 of these rodents in the course of a year! If one prairie dog weighs 3 pounds, that means a black-footed ferret eats 300 pounds of prairie dogs per year. Imagine, 300 pounds is equal to nine-tenths the weight of a panda bear.
What eats black-footed ferrets?
Golden eagles, owls, coyotes, bobcats, and badgers are all predators of these animals. Most of these predators are nocturnal as well. An owl flying over the plains can easily see the movements of a black-footed ferret and swoop down to capture one. Or, a bobcat can choose a location near the burrow of a black-footed ferret and wait until it ventures out looking for food at night.
What does a black-footed ferret eat?
Prairie dogs make up the biggest part of the diet of these animals. This is why this animal is known as an expert prairie dog hunter! They also may eat ground squirrels, mice, rats, rabbits, reptiles, birds, and sometimes insects.
The conservation status of the black-footed ferret is Endangered. When its main diet of prairie dogs decreases, the population of ferrets goes down as well. Also, this ferret is threatened by habitat loss due to land development. They are sometimes killed by farmers who consider them pests that may go after their chickens and smaller livestock.
There are conservation actions being taken now to protect this ferret. These actions include captive breeding and educating the public about these unique animals.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
The breeding season of these animals happens in March and April. In this species, female ferrets compete for males. The gestation period of a female is 41 to 43 days. They give live birth to 3 to 4 babies also called kits. The female ferret cares for the kits in the burrow after they are born. The male doesn’t play a part in the care of the young.
Newborn ferrets weigh from 0.2 to 0.3 ounces. They are born with their eyes closed and have a thin coat of white hair. They are mostly helpless until their eyes open. In about 3 weeks, they begin to get black markings on their fur, and their eyes open at 35 days old. After being weaned at around 3 months old, the kits begin to venture out of their underground location as their mother teaches them how to hunt for food. They stay with their mother for about 5 or 6 months before going off to live independently.
The lifespan of these animals is 3 to 4 years. The record for the oldest black-footed ferret is 9 years.
Black-Footed Ferret Population
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the population of these animals consists of 206 mature individuals. The conservation status of this ferret is endangered, and they have a decreasing population.