10 Incredible Black-Footed Ferret Facts

Written by Janet F. Murray
Updated: August 27, 2023
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Black-footed ferrets are native to North America and live in Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, and South Dakota.

Black-footed ferret facts are that these animals also have another name, the American polecat. The ferret is a cute little animal that pops out of burrows. Other black-footed ferret facts include them being fierce hunters and protectors of their young. Sadly, these ferrets can only be found in a few states across America as their population has drastically decreased. But, this ferret is a survivor, so join our exploration into more furry ferret facts.

Discover 10 fascinating facts about the rare black-footed ferret.

1. The Black-Footed Ferret Doesn’t Only Have Black Feet

animals unique to North America: black-footed ferret

Black-footed ferret facts mean that these little animals are native to North America and live in Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, and South Dakota.

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©iStock.com/Kerry Hargrove

Black-footed ferrets are mammals with long, thin bodies covered in cream-colored fur. As their name suggests, they have black feet, but they also have black-tipped tails. Additionally, these ferrets have black faces that look like a mask. Black-footed ferrets grow 18 to 24 inches long, with tails measuring five to six inches. Males are usually larger and heavier than females, but these ferrets roughly weigh two pounds. Another notable black-footed ferret fact is that the heaviest recorded one weighed 2.5 pounds.

2. Black-footed Ferrets Are Native to North America

Black-foot Ferret sitting, looking at the camera

Black-foot ferrets are native to North America, and currently only inhabit Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, and South Dakota.

©Sorayot Chinkanjanarot/Shutterstock.com

Black-footed ferrets used to live across the North American Great Plains, with their habitats stretching from northern Mexico to southern Canada. Today, these ferrets live across states like Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, and South Dakota. Black-footed ferrets favor living in plains and grasslands, where they remain all year round as they don’t migrate. During the winter seasons, these ferrets will stay in their burrows for extended periods to avoid the cold.

3. They are Adapted to Their Habitat

Endangered Black-footed Ferret Enjoying some Sunshine

Facts about black-footed ferrets include being on the IUCN’s Red List of endangered species.

©Kerry Hargrove/Shutterstock.com

Their long, thin bodies allow the ferrets to hunt for prairie dogs as they can easily slip into their burrows while hunting. They also have strong jaws to catch, hold, and kill prairie dogs. Another black-footed ferret fact is that their large eyes help them see in the dark. Further, these ferrets have a strong sense of smell, making it easy to locate their prey by detecting specific scents. Their cream-colored coat, which may seem unimportant, help these animals camouflage themselves, effectively merging with their surroundings and evading predators. Black-footed ferrets live in dens and have sharp claws that help them dig new burrows or expand their existing shelter.

4. Black-Footed Ferrets Help Other Ferrets

Black-footed ferrets are solitary animals but will alert other ferrets if a threat is nearby.

©USFWS Mountain-Prairie – Black-footed Ferret Kit / CC BY 2.0 – License

Black-footed ferrets are solitary mammals, but they sometimes form groups called a ‘business.’ A ‘business’ consists of at least three ferrets. If a ferret spots a possible predator near its burrow, it will chatter and hiss. This reaction deters the predator and is a warning sign to any other ferrets in the area. However, black-footed ferrets are usually passive animals but may become aggressive during the mating season.

5. They’re On The IUCN Endangered List

Black-footed Ferret

The black-footed ferret is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List.

©J. Michael Lockhart / USFWS–Public Domain – License

The IUCN Red List records the black-footed ferret as endangered. Black-footed ferrets hunt prairie dogs which often carry the sylvatic plague. Fleas harbor this plague, and 90% of prairie dogs with the disease die. When the prairie dog population decreased due to illness, so did the black-footed ferret’s primary food source. Their numbers also drastically declined, so experts thought they might have gone extinct.

Besides declining food sources, the black-footed ferret populations have also decreased because of habitat loss. Farmlands constantly expand, reducing the habitat for prairie dogs. Fewer prairie dogs mean less food, which leads to starvation. After experts identified a small population of prairie dogs in 1981, they started increasing captive breeding programs to elevate the population. These efforts drastically helped revive the ferret population, but they remain endangered.

6. Tragically, Only 300 Black-Footed Ferrets In The Wild

black-footed ferret peeking beyond burrow

The mask of the black-footed ferret matches the black fur on its feet, ears, and tail.

©iStock.com/Kerry Hargrove

The Defenders of Wildlife Resource estimates that only 300 black-footed ferrets are left in the wild. According to data from 2016, an additional 300 black-footed ferrets live in captive breeding facilities. However, the IUCN estimates that 500 black-footed ferrets survive in the wild spread across the United States and Mexico. The IUCN Red List also found that 206 black-footed ferret adults live in self-sustaining free-living populations.

7. These Ferrets Love Eating Prairie Dogs

Where Do Prairie Dogs Live

Black-footed ferrets sometimes use prairie dog burrows as their homes and even prey on them.

©Zoltan Tarlacz/Shutterstock.com

Black-footed ferrets are carnivores, and most of their diet consists of prairie dogs. Researchers estimate that one black-footed ferret will eat 100 prairie dogs each year. But, they don’t only eat prairie dogs. If they can’t find their favorite meal, it’s a fact that the black-footed ferret will hunt for ground squirrels, mice, rats, rabbits, reptiles, birds, and insects.

8. Most Of Their Predators Are Nocturnal

Animals That Stay Up All night - Black footed Ferret

Black-footed ferrets use the tunnels made by prairie dogs to hunt their prey.

©Kerry Hargrove/Shutterstock.com

One more curious fact about black-footed ferrets is that they hunt at night. So do their predators, including golden eagles, owls, coyotes, bobcats, and badgers, most of which are nocturnal. Owls easily catch these ferrets by swooping down on them from above. Bobcats also hunt the black-footed ferret by stalking them in their dens and pouncing on them when they emerge to look for food.

Black-footed ferrets face other threats like habitat loss and farmers. Due to expanding farmlands and land development, their habitat options are declining. Farmers also regard them as pests when the ferrets hunt their chickens and small livestock. Farmers then set traps or place pesticides to kill the ferrets.

9. Young Ferrets Are Called Kits

Ferret (Mustela Putorius Furo) - pink babies

Female black-footed ferrets typically give birth to 3-4 babies, called kits.

©Rashid Valitov/Shutterstock.com

Black-footed ferrets breed between March and April. Unlike most species, the female competes with other females for the male. Female ferrets are pregnant for 41 to 43 days and give birth to three to four babies, known as kits. Males do not have parental roles, and the mother raises the kits in her burrow. Newborn kits weigh 0.2 to 0.3 ounces, are born with closed eyes, and have a thin coat of white hair.

Once they are three weeks, they develop black markings on their fur, and their eyes open after a month. The mother weans her babies at around three months when they begin exploring life outside the burrow. At this time, the mother also teaches them how to hunt. Black-footed ferrets live for three to four years, but the oldest recorded black-footed ferret lived nine years.

10. Black-footed Ferrets Are Noisy

Thought to be extinct in the 1980s. Now federally endangered. Conservation efforts are proving successful.

©iStock.com/Kerry Hargrove

An interesting black-footed ferret fact is that these animals have different calls and noises for various reasons. For example, they chatter to warn other ferrets of danger. But the black-footed ferret hisses to show agitation or fear. During mating, males make a sound known as a ‘chortle.’ Females also make whimpering sounds that signal their kits to follow.

Up Next – Fascinating Facts About Ferrets

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Kerry Hargrove/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with more than eight years of content creation experience. My content writing covers diverse genres, and I have a business degree. I am also the proud author of my memoir, My Sub-Lyme Life. This work details the effects of living with undiagnosed infections like rickettsia (like Lyme). By sharing this story, I wish to give others hope and courage in overcoming their life challenges. In my downtime, I value spending time with friends and family.

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Sources
  1. Kidadl, Available here: https://kidadl.com/facts/animals/black-footed-ferret-facts
  2. Animalia (1970) https://animalia.bio/black-footed-ferret 
  3. Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, Available here: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/black-footed-ferret
  4. The Nature Conservancy, Available here: https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/animals-we-protect/black-footed-ferret/
  5. World Wildlife Fund, Available here: https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/black-footed-ferret-facts-the-masked-bandits-of-the-northern-great-plains