Black Footed Ferret

The Facts

  • Genus/Species: Mustela nigripes
  • Conservation Status: Endangered
  • Location: Central North America

Black Footed Ferret
Black Footed Ferret
Black Footed Ferret
Black Footed Ferret
Black Footed Ferret
Black Footed Ferret

The Scoop

Prairie Dog Hunter

The black footed ferret is also known as the American polecat or prairie dog hunter. It is a member of the weasel family and the only ferret native to North America. Its home is in the North American short grass and mixed grass prairie. 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 that are developed for digging. Black footed ferrets eat, sleep and raise their young in prairie dog burrows and spend about 90% of their time underground.

The black footed ferret is about 2 feet long, which includes its tail. They are smaller in length than a cat and much lighter too. These ferrets sleep during the day and hunt prairie dogs at night. Prairie dogs make up 90% of a black footed ferret's diet. A ferret may eat over 100 prairie dogs in one year. Black footed ferrets are also known to eat ground squirrels, small rodents, rabbits and birds. Smell is very important to the black footed ferret, for it finds its prey in the dark using its sense of smell. Its large skull and strong jaw and teeth are adapted for eating meat. Black footed ferrets cache or store their food so that they can avoid going out of their burrows as far as possible.

Black footed ferrets are one of the most endangered mammals in North America. They once numbered in the tens of thousands, but they depended almost completely on prairie dogs for their food, and as the number of prairie dogs declined the black footed ferret population declined too. Today they are on the brink of extinction. In fact, by 1986 they had completely disappeared from the wild, but were reintroduced to 15 locations within their former range.


Did You Know? 

  • Black footed ferrets sleep up to 21 hours a day.
  • Female ferrets are called “jills”, males are called “hobs” and young are called “kits”.
  • One black-footed ferret eats one prairie dog every three days.
  • The black-footed ferret is considered to be the rarest mammal in North America


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