Black-footed Ferret
  Name: Black-footed Ferret
Scientific name: Mustela nigripes
Range: Was once found throughout the eastern and southern Rockies and the Great Plains. Some animals have been reintroduced into the wild in Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana.
Habitat: Short and mid-grass prairies of the Great Plains. Black-footed ferrets frequently live in abandoned prairie dog burrows, and they are the only ferret native to North America.
Status: Considered to be among the most endangered mammals in North America
Diet in the wild: Primarily prairie dogs (90 percent), although they also will eat mice and other small animals, an occasional reptile, and 
even insects
Diet in the zoo: Carnivore diet; he eats processed meat product and some whole prey (but not prairie dogs!)
Location in the zoo: Texas Twister Building in the Texas Wild! Exhibit 

Physical description: 
  • Body length: 18 to 24 inches, including a 5 to 6-inch tail
  • Weight: 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 pounds
  • Color: Black face mask, black feet, black-tipped tail; short, sleek fur; yellow-buff color - lighter on belly, and nearly white on forehead, muzzle and throat
  • Short legs, large front paws
  • Claws are developed for digging
  • Large ears and eyes

General information:

The black-footed ferret is a nocturnal creature, and is therefore rarely seen. His peak hours of activity are around dusk. His level of activity is reduced in winter. They sometimes will stay in an underground burrow for as long as a week, and spend about 99 percent of their time underground. 

It is believed that mating occurs in April or May and there is a six-week gestation period. A typical litter is three or four babies, which are born blind and helpless. They develop quickly, however, and by September, they are nearly full grown. The male is not involved with the care and feeding of the offspring, even though he may live in the same burrow. 

Special anatomical, physiological or behavioral adaptations:

The black-footed ferret has large eyes and ears, which suggests it has keen sight and hearing. Since it hunts prey underground in the dark, it is believed that smell is probably the most important of the senses.

The large skull of the ferret, along with strong jaws and teeth, are adapted for eating meat. 

Comments about the Black-footed Ferret of the Fort Worth Zoo:

There are two black-footed ferrets at the Fort Worth Zoo, one male and one female, although only the male is on exhibit. He was born at the Louisville, Ky. Zoo as part of the Species Survival Plan. After a stay there, he went to the National Black-footed Ferret Conservatory, which is part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Program. While there, he was a breeder, then retired to the Fort Worth Zoo.

Personal Observations:

Although I went to the Texas Wild! Exhibit in the Fort Worth Zoo, it was a bright sunny day, and the black-footed ferret was nowhere to be found! His living quarters were sparse and grassy, with an underground pen that had a heat lamp in it. It is possible the ferret was inside, but I could not see him. 

I found it ironic that the prairie dogs lived right next door to the ferret. I wonder how frustrating that was for him each night, to see the prairie dogs, but not be able to get to them!

Source Materials and Related Links:

Page author:{short description of image}Holly Ellman

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