Black-footed Ferret - Mustela nigripes - Endangered
The black-footed ferret is 20 to 24 inches in length and can weigh up to 2 1/2 pounds. It has a yellowish-brown body with a Zorro-like black mask across the face. There are also black markings on the feet and the tip of the tail. The ferret is close in size to the mink.
From Newborn to Adult: Black-footed ferrets produce three to four young per litter. The young are usually born in May or June and do not leave the burrow until they are 6 weeks old. In mid-August, the mother separates the young ferrets and places them in different burrows. In the next two months, the ferrets learn to take care of themselves.
What's for Dinner?: Prairie dogs are its main source of food.
Natural Habitat: The black-footed ferret inhabits short-grass prairies, the same areas where prairie dogs also inhabit. Ferrets also use prairie dog burrows as shelter.
Range: Ferrets were once found throughout the Great Plains, from Texas to southern Saskatchewan, Canada. Their range also extended from the Rocky Mountains eastward through the Dakotas and south through Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
- The black-footed ferret is considered to be the rarest mammal in North America.
- A black-footed ferret family of 4 will consume an average of 763 prairie dogs per year.
- The black-footed ferret, Mustela nugripes, is not the same ferret that is sold in pet stores. Although the appearance may be the same, the pet store variety is a different species.
Reasons for Population Decline: As the prairies were settled and livestock herds increased, prairie dogs were seen as "pests" and destroyed. Without the prairie dogs, the black-footed ferret lost it source of food and its population declined. Ferrets are also prey for golden eagles, great-horned owls, and coyotes.
Road to Recovery: There have been unconfirmed sightings of the black-footed ferret in the southwestern part of North Dakota. There are still about 300 black-footed ferrets in captivity. North Dakota is under consideration for a reintroduction program in which the black-footed ferret will be returned to the prairies it once inhabited.