In recent years, more and more pet stores have begun carrying ferrets as their popularity continues to increase. However, very few people know about the origins of domesticated ferrets and even fewer know that, while not directly related to modern domesticated ferrets, the Black Footed Ferret still roams wild in certain areas of the United States today. This article will give a brief overview of the wild Black Footed Ferret and how they are similar and different to the ferret that calls your living room home.
What Is A Black Footed Ferret?
The Black Footed Ferret is a member of weasel family, closely related to the weasel, otters, skunk, badgers. The Black Footed Ferret have the characteristic black mask, with a white or cream forehead and light tan bodies. As the name suggests, their feet are black, as is their tails.
They are small animals, weighing a mere 1.5 pounds to 2.5 pounds, with males on the larger end and females on the smaller end. While they are small, they are long, approximately twenty to twenty-five inches, with their tail taking up five to six of those inches.
Where Do Black Footed Ferrets Live?
Black footed ferrets used to live throughout the prairies of the United States, from the mid-Western provenances of Canada down to the northern states of Mexico. However, due to a number of different factors, their habitat has drastically decreased in the past century.
Today, the biggest population of Black Footed Ferrets exists in Wyoming, but they have been reintroduced into areas in South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Utah, and Mexico to some success.
Black Footed Ferrets live in tunnels underneath the ground, often overtaking already dug out by prairie dogs. These small mammals are solitary beings, only living together as a mother is raising her kits.
Black Footed Ferrets spend almost all of their time underneath the ground, sleeping and staying safe from predators. When they do come up to the surface, it is often during the night and usually only to hunt.
What Do Black Footed Ferrets Eat?
Black Footed Ferrets eat a variety of different animals, but the vast majority of their diets are made up of prairie dogs. A single black footed ferret can eat up to one hundred prairie dogs every single year, so the survival of the black footed ferret it closely entwined with the survival of the prairie dog.
When prairie dogs are not available, they have also been known to prey on small animals such as ground squirrels, rabbits, and birds.
Black footed ferrets are obligate carnivores, meaning they have to consume an all meat diet in order to survive. These ferrets have strong jaws to help crush the bones of their prey, and typically consume the entire animal, down to bones, fur, and organs.
How Are Black Footed Ferrets Related To Domesticated Ferrets?
While Black Footed Ferrets and domesticated ferrets are both in the same family, they are cousins and not the same species. Black Footed Ferrets have roamed North America for hundreds of years, whereas domesticated ferrets only came to the United States in the past century or so.
There is no evidence that Black Footed Ferrets have ever been domesticated by humans. Ferrets that we keep as pets were domesticated over two-thousand years ago, and were probably first used for hunting. Today, there are certain parts of the world where ferrets are used for hunting and protecting crops, but most domesticated ferrets are kept as pets.
Are Black Footed Ferrets At Risk For Extinction?
Black footed ferrets have been dwindling in numbers since the beginning of the 20th century. Black footed ferrets themselves were hunted and prairie dogs, seen as a menace, were being exterminated as well. Their numbers dwindled so low that in the 1970s, black footed ferrets were determined to be extinct.
Thankfully, in the 1980s, about one hundred and twenty black footed ferrets were found living in the prairies of Wyoming. Unfortunately, through the resulting years, disease wiped out all but eighteen of these ferrets. These ferrets were trapped and taken in for captive breeding programs to help boost back the population.
What Is Being Done To Promote The Numbers of Black Footed Ferrets?
After the capture of the remaining black footed ferrets, these ferrets were bred in captivity and their offspring were released into the wild. In captivity, black footed ferrets are taught to catch their own prey in order to be more successful in the wild.
Today, there are approximately three hundred black footed ferrets living in the wild with another three hundred living in captive breeding programs. The National Black Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Northern Colorado house most of the captive black footed ferrets in North America and do a fantastic job advocating for the continued survival of these beautiful creatures.
Do Black Footed Ferrets Have Any Natural Enemies?
In the wild, there are animals that prey on black footed ferrets, including badgers, lynx, and coyotes, as well as predatory birds like eagles and hawks.
Of course, loss of habitat and loss of food sources are huge threats to the survival of these unique little animals, so humans encroaching on habitat of the prairie and killing off prairie dogs is a huge concern.
Black footed ferrets are incredibly interesting and unique little mammals, as are all members of the weasel family. The story of survival and perseverance of the black footed ferret is still ongoing, and while black footed ferret numbers are on the rise, their survival is not certain. Protection of their habitat, and the greater ecosystem in general, will be key in not only the survival of the black footed ferrets, but all animals.