Basic Facts About Black-Footed Ferrets
The endangered black-footed ferret is a member of the weasel family. It is the only ferret native to North America—the domestic ferret is a different species of European origin and has been domesticated for hundreds of years. The black-footed ferret has a tan body with black legs and feet, a black tip on the tail and a black mask. It has short legs with large front paws and claws developed for digging. Its large skull and strong jaw and teeth are adapted for eating meat.
© Luray Parker / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Prairie dogs make up 90% of a black-footed ferret's diet. A ferret may eat more than 100 prairie dogs in one year. Black-footed ferrets are also known to eat ground squirrels, small rodents, rabbits and birds
Black-footed ferrets once numbered in the tens of thousands, but widespread destruction of their habitat and exotic diseases in the 1900s brought them to the brink of extinction. Only 18 remained in 1986. Today, they are making a comeback, with approximately 750 black-footed ferrets in the wild, and another 250 living in captive breeding facilities (as of 2008).
Black-footed ferrets were once found on black-tailed prairie dog colonies across the Great Plains from southern Canada to northern Mexico, and on white-tailed and Gunnison’s prairie dog colonies across the intermountain west. By 1986, they were completely gone from the wild. Today, they have been reintroduced to 15 locations within their former range in Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Kansas and Chihuahua, Mexico (2008).
Black-footed ferrets eat, sleep and raise their young in prairie dog burrows, and spend about 90% of their time underground. They sleep during the day and hunt prairie dogs at night.
A healthy population of black-footed ferrets requires very large prairie dog colonies. Scientists estimate that more than 10,000 acres of prairie dog colonies are required, and results from the various reintroduction sites show that it may actually take more than 20,000 acres.
Mating Season: March-April.
Gestation: 41-43 days. Kits are born in May-June.
Litter size: 3-4 kits average; ranges from 1-7 kits.
Kits are born blind and helpless and stay below ground until they are about 2 months old. At this age, the female begins to take her young on hunting forays and separates the kits into different burrows. By October, the young are completely independent and will disperse to their own territories.
Height: 6 inches.
Length: 18-24 inches (including a 5-6 inch tail).
Weight: 1.5-2.5 lbs; males slightly larger than females.
Lifespan: 3-4 years in the wild; 8-9 years in captivity.