Carnivora (Carnivorous mammals)
Mustelidae (badgers, otters, skunks, weasels, and relatives)
HABITAT AND RANGE
The black-footed ferret was once found throughout the eastern and southern Rockies and the Great Plains. It is currently found in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming as well as Chihuahua, Mexico. It often makes its homes in abandoned prairie dog burrows.
The black-footed ferret is a member of the Mustelidae of weasel family. It has a long body and yellowish-brown fur with a blackish wash on its back. It is about two feet in length and weighs 2 to 3 pounds. It has a black-tipped tail and black feet with long claws. It has a black mask around its eyes; large rounded ears on the side of its triangular head; a white muzzle, forehead and throat and a black nose. Males are larger than females. The black-footed ferret is the only ferret native to North America.
The black-footed ferret eats mostly prairie dogs. It slithers down prairie dog tunnels to catch its prey. If it can't find prairie dogs, it eats other small mammals like mice gophers and ground squirrels. It may also eat birds, eggs and small reptiles.
REPRODUCTION AND LIFESPAN
Black-footed ferrets lead solitary lives except during the breeding season and when females are caring for young. Breeding season usually occurs in March and April. Gestation lasts 41-45 days after which a litter of 3-4 kits is born. The young are altricial and covered in fine white fur; they open their eyes after about a month. Black-footed ferrets live 3-4 years in the wild, up to 9 in captivity.
Biologists thought the black-footed ferret was extinct in 1976 when the last known colony in South Dakota disappeared. In 1981 a group of about 100 black-footed ferrets was found near Meeteetse, Wyoming. All but 18 of those black-footed ferrets died of distemper. The remaining ferrets were captured and bred in captivity and since 1991 they have been released in the wild in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Poisoning campaigns of prairie dogs in the 1800’s decimated the heavily reliant ferrets. It was thought that the prairie dogs competed with livestock for forage.