Black-Footed Ferret

Ferret, Black-Footed

Order: Carnivora
Family: Mustelidae
Genus: Mustela
Species: nigripes

Once ranging over the great plains from southern Canada to Mexico, black-footed ferrets are now being released into Arizona, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Canada and Mexico.

Prairie dog towns; occupy vacant burrows.

Adults are 18 – 24 inches (including a 5-inch tail) and weigh 1.5 – 3 pounds.

Females breed their first spring when they are about 8 months old. Their breeding season begins in February, but extends into May. Gestation period is 42 days, so kits are born from May to July. One to ten young are born in a litter (average liter size is 4 kits) and the helpless newborns spend 4 – 6 weeks in the burrow with their mother, who raises them by herself. In September the juveniles will leave their natal areas to find and establish their own territories.

Wild: Food preference is prairie dogs; if scarce, they will also eat rabbits and mice in winter and ground squirrels in summer.
Zoo: Carnivore diet, rats, mice

These nocturnal mammals spend days sleeping and nights marking, defending, and roaming their territories, where they search for food. Like other mustelids, such as otters and weasels, they produce musk from an anal gland, used to mark their territories and for defense.

Probably spend 95% of their time underground. They survey their habitat by poking their heads out of the prairie dogs’ burrows and looking in all directions. Behavior biologists call this periscoping. Active even on the coldest nights, they may travel a couple of miles and investigate between 50 and 400 burrows per night. These ferrets communicate by various types of vocalization. When frightened, they will chatter and hiss; they whimper when encouraging their young to follow.

One of the most endangered mammals in North America. As of August 2014: 1023 ferrets born, 817 survived at the Louisville Zoo, 666 ferrets have been released into the wild from the Louisville Zoo; approximately 20 zoos now exhibit the black-footed ferret.
As of August 2014, there were 300 – 600 surviving ferrets in the wild and approximately 280 in captivity for breeding purposes.