Black-footed Ferret

The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) is a small carnivorous North American mammal closely related to the Steppe Polecat of Russia. It is a member of the diverse family Mustelidae which also includes weasels, mink, polecats, martens, otters, and badgers. It should not be confused with the domesticated ferret.

The black-footed ferret is an endangered mammal in North America, according to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). They became extinct in the wild in Canada in 1937, and were classified as endangered in the U.S. in 1967. The last known wild population was taken into captivity in the mid-1980s.

Physical description

Black-footed ferrets are about 18 inches (45 cm) long, with a furry 6 in (15 cm) tail, and they weigh roughly 2 pounds (1 kg). Like most members of the family, they are very low to the ground with an elongated body and very short legs. Their fur is white at the base but darkens at the tips, making them appear yellowish-brown overall. They have black feet and tail-tip, and a distinctive black facemask. These blend in well with the prairie ecosystem in which they live. They do not change their habitat over the seasons, but they can change the world.

Ecology and behavior

They are nocturnal hunters that are almost entirely dependent on a plentiful supply of prairie dogs to prey on, and shelter in a prairie dog burrow during the day. A single family of four black-footed ferrets eats about 250 prairie dogs each year and cannot survive without access to large colonies of them.