All About Black-Footed Ferrets

The black-footed ferret is the sole native species of ferret in North America. These animals used to live all over the western plains; however, it was believed they had all died out until 1981 when a tiny group of them were found. Due to programs like breeding them and reintroducing them into the environment, such as was done by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, these animals have now made a remarkable comeback.

The black footed ferret is a different species of ferret than the ones typically kept as pets. Because there are less than a thousand known in the world, they are endangered and it’s illegal to keep an endangered animal without a permit.

Fun Truths

Young black-footed ferrets are quite playful. They love to wrestle with each other, as well as arch up their backs and dance around by hopping backward as they keep their mouth open. This movement is often called the “ferret dance.”

At the time they were believed extinct, a group of them were found in an isolated area. Then, 18 of them were removed and used to breed more ferrets, and today all the wild ones came from this small group.

The black-footed ferret is the sole species of ferrets native to North America.

Bodily Description

The colors and the markings on the black-footed ferret blend in well with their environment of soil, grass, and other plants. These creatures are adapted well to the prairies where they live.  Ferrets are slim, muscular creatures. They have black feet, their tail is tipped with black, and they also have a black facemask.

A ferret’s body is also sleek and short, and their fur has a yellowish buff hue. They are lighter in color on their stomach, and their forehead, throat, and muzzle are almost white. They have short legs, as well as big front paws, along with sharp claws designed to dig. They additionally have big eyes and ears, and likely can hear and see quite well. They have a great sense of smell, as that is vital for them to be able to hunt for their prey, which lives underground, during darkness.


Ferrets are similar in size to minks. They are between eighteen and twenty-four inches (forty-six and sixty-one centimeters), and that includes their tails, which are between five and six inches long (thirteen to sixteen centimeters). Ferrets weigh between one and a half and two and a half pounds (about a kilogram), and the boys are a bit bigger than the girls.

Native Environment

At one time, the black-footed ferret lived all over the Great Plains in North American in the same places that colonies of prairie dogs lived, between the south of Canada to the northern part of Mexico. These days, ferrets have been put back into some of that area, to include the states of Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, and South Dakota.


This type of ferret is quite vocal. They use a loud chattering noise to warn each other of danger. They hiss when they are angry or scared, and the girls whimper to get their babies to follow them. The boys will also use a chortling sound to attract girls when it is the breeding season.

Foods/Eating Behaviors of the Black-Footed Ferret

A ferret has a very high metabolism, so they need large amounts of food compared to their body’s size. This requirement varies depending on the time of year and the particular animals; however, they usually eat about one prairie dog each 3 to 4 days, since this is 90 percent of what ferrets eat in the wild.

Scientists have figured out that each family of ferrets must eat over 250 of them yearly, and otherwise round out their diets with rats and mice, as well as ground squirrels and rabbits, and birds. They also sometimes eat insects or reptiles.

The ones living in the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’ eat a unique meat mixture developed for carnivores, as well as are fed rats and mice.

Social Construction

The black-footed ferret lives typically alone, except for breeding times, as well as if a female has babies.

Reproduction and Growth

Breeding season for ferrets usually is between March and the end of April. Their pregnancy takes between forty-one and forty-three days, and they have 3 to 4 babies. The babies are called kits. The female is the only one that parents the babies.

Ferret kits get born with their eyes closed, and these open at around thirty-five days later. They are quite defenseless. They weigh between five to nine grams or between 0.2 and 0.3 ounces when born. The babies have only white, thin hair over their bodies. They don’t get the color and markings of the adults until they reach around three weeks old. The black-footed ferret babies grow quite fast and get very active as soon as they open their eyes.

When July rolls around, the babies are around ¾ grown. It’s then they get to go out of the underground den. Even after they are no longer nursing, the babies need their mom to hunt for their food and bring them meat. When the end of summer is near, the mother puts the babies into separate dens during the daytime. She brings them all together during the nighttime while she hunts.  In time, the babies learn to hunt by themselves, and by the time September arrives, they usually are out on their own. A ferret is mature sexually by the time they are a year old. They are at their reproductive peak when between three and four years old.

Sleeping Habits

The black-footed ferret is chiefly nocturnal and mostly stays underground, living in burrows made by prairie dogs. They usually only stay out of their den several minutes at a time, typically right after the sun goes down and use that timeframe for hunting, looking for a mate, or looking for a new den.

Within their dens, they do their sleeping, look for food, get away from their predators, stay warm in bad weather, and that’s where their kits are born. They don’t hibernate; however, in the wintertime, they are not as active and don’t travel as far out of the burrows. They have been noted to stay in the same burrow-groups for up to a week during the wintertime. Boys are active more than the girls, and the boys usually travel twice as much as the girls.


Only a few black-footed ferrets have been found in the wild over three or four, but those taken care of by people can live twice as long.

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