Articles on this page are available in 1 other language: Spanish (3) (learn more)

Overview

Brief Summary

Description

Once widespread in the grasslands and western basins of North America, by 1987 Black-footed Ferrets were thought to be extinct in the wild. Captive animals were bred in an effort to save the species, and in 1991, some were reintroduced in Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming. The Ferrets depend on prairie dogs, living in their tunnels and eating them, and the young are born in prairie dog tunnels. Black-footed Ferrets are mostly nocturnal and seldom seen. The best chance of seeing them is in mid- to late summer, after the young begin to be active aboveground.

Links:
Mammal Species of the World
Click here for The American Society of Mammalogists species account
Visit ARKive for more images of the black-footed ferret  More images, video and sound
  • Original description: Audubon, J. J., and J. Bachman,, 1851.  The viviparous quadrupeds of North America, p. 297.  V.G. Audubon, New York, 2:1-334. 
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Smithsonian Institution

Source: Smithsonian's North American Mammals

Trusted

Article rating from 1 person

Average rating: 4.0 of 5

Biology

The black-footed ferret is an alert, agile, nocturnal animal, which spends the day in prairie dog burrows (7). More than 90 percent of the diet consists of prairie dogs, which are attacked whilst they sleep in their burrows (3), although mice, ground squirrels, voles and other small mammals are also taken (6). This species is solitary, except during the breeding season, which runs from March to April (6). Females give birth to litters of between three to six young (known as kits), and rear their offspring without help from the male. The young, which are born blind and helpless and covered with thin white hair (3), stay in the burrow for about 42 days before venturing above ground, and remain with their mother until the autumn, after which time they disperse (6). These ferrets have excellent senses of hearing, sight and smell, and olfactory communication (urination and defecation) is very important in the maintenance of dominance hierarchies and following trails at night (6). Vocalisations include chattering and hissing (6).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Description

Once classified as Extinct in the Wild, the black-footed ferret is one of the world's rarest mammals and the only ferret native to North America (1) (5). This slender animal has a yellowish coloured coat (2), pale underparts (6), and a dark tail tip and black feet (2). The muzzle, throat and forehead are white and there is a black mask around the eyes (6). As with most members of the genus Mustela, the males are larger and much heavier than females (2). The legs are short and the large front paws are armed with claws for digging (3).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Distribution

Historically, Mustela nigripes ranged throughout the interior regions of North America, from southern Canada to northern Mexico. Mustela nigripes is the only ferret that is native to North America. Today, Mustela nigripes exists in the wild in three locations, northeastern Montana, western South Dakota, and southeastern Wyoming. All three locations are sites where they have been reintroduced after the original populations were extirpated. Mustela nigripes populations also exist in seven zoos and breeding facilities (Massicot 2000, Wilson & Ruff 1999, Nowak 1991, Hillman & Clark 1980).

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 1 person

Average rating: 4.0 of 5

Range

The black-footed ferret was once common throughout the Great Plains from Alberta in Canada to southwestern USA, but by 1987, the species was extinct in the wild (3). Today, following concerted conservation efforts, reintroduced black-footed ferret populations exist in eight western states and Chihuahua (Mexico) (1) (7) (8). However, only three of these populations, two in South Dakota and one in Wyoming, are considered self-sustaining (1).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 1 person

Average rating: 4.0 of 5

Range Description

Historically, black-footed ferrets were found throughout the Great Plains, mountain basins, and semiarid grasslands of west central North America - from southern Canada to northern Mexico wherever its prey, prairie dogs, were located (Hillman and Clark, 1980). The species was extirpated from most of its former range mainly as a result of prairie dog control programs and sylvatic plague - an exotic disease which was introduced to wild population. Today, they are known from 18 reintroduction efforts, only 3 of which are self sustaining. The three self-sustaining populations are in South Dakota and Wyoming; 4 populations of limited success in Arizona, Colorado, South Dakota, and Utah; 8 populations of recent initiation in Arizona, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Mexico; and 3 declining or extirpated populations in Montana.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Absent

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Global Range: (<100-250 square km (less than about 40-100 square miles)) The range formerly encompassed a large area of the Great Plains, mountain basins, and semi-arid grasslands of North America. Subsequently the species was extirpated virtually everywhere. The last known wild population existed in the vicinity of Meeteetse, Wyoming, until early 1987. Ferrets from that area were captured and used for captive breeding. The species was reintroduced in Shirley Basin, Wyoming, in the early 1990s; since then it has also been reintroduced in South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Chihuahua (Federal Register, 13 April 1993, 27 June 1994, 18 August 1994, 20 March 1996, 29 April 1997; Bard 2002).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Historic Range:
Chihuahua,Mexico. Presumed to be extirpated in other States of range and Canada
Western U.S.A., western Canada

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Physical Description

Morphology

Female black-footed ferrets range in weight from 645 to 850 grams, while the weight of males ranges from 915 to 1,125grams. Mustela nigripes ranges in length from 380 to 600mm (head and body). In linear measurements, male black-footed ferrets are generally 10% larger than females. The fur of Mustela nigripes is yellowish-buff with pale underparts. The forehead, muzzle, and throat are white; while the feet are black. A black mask is observed around the eyes, which is well defined in young black-footed ferrets (Massicot 2000, Wilson & Ruff 1999, Nowak 1991, Hillman & Clark 1980).

Range mass: 645 to 1125 g.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Size

Length: 57 cm

Weight: 633 grams

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Size in North America

Length:
Average: 534 mm males; 501 mm females
Range: 490-600 mm males; 479-518 mm females

Weight:
Average: 1,034 g males; 703 g females
Range: 915-1,034 g males; 645-850 g females
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Smithsonian Institution

Source: Smithsonian's North American Mammals

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Diagnostic Description

Weasels are brown above and whitish or yellowish below; mink is almost entirely dark brown to black; weasels and mink lack the dark mask.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Ecology

Habitat

Black-footed ferrets can be found in the short or middle grass prairies and rolling hills of North America. Each ferret typically needs about 100-120 acres of space upon which to forage for food. They live within the abandoned burrows of prairie dogs and use these complex underground tunnels for shelter and hunting. A mother with a litter of three would need approximately 140 acres to survive (Massicot 2000, Nowak 1991).

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Black-footed ferrets are limited to open habitat, the same habitat used by prairie dogs: grasslands, steppe, and shrub steppe. It depends largely on prairie dogs: ferrets prey on prairie dogs and utilize their burrows for shelter and denning (Hillman and Clark, 1980). It has been estimated that about 40-60 hectares of prairie dog colony are needed to support one ferret. See Biggins et al. (in Oldemeyer et al. 1993) for information on evaluating areas as potential ferret habitat; factors include size of prairie dog complex, prairie dog population density, spatial arrangement of prairie dog colonies, potential for disease in prairie dogs and ferrets, potential for prairie dog expansion, abundance of predators, future resource conflicts and ownership stability, and public and landowner attitudes.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Comments: This species is limited to open habitat, the same habitat used by prairie dogs: grasslands, steppe, and shrub steppe. Resting and birthing sites are in underground burrows, generally made by prairie dogs. It has been estimated that about 40-60 hectares of prairie dog colony are needed to support one ferret. See Biggins et al. (in Oldemeyer et al. 1993) for information on evaluating areas as potential ferret habitat; factors include size of prairie dog complex, prairie dog population density, spatial arrangement of prairie dog colonies, potential for disease in prairie dogs and ferrets, potential for prairie dog expansion, abundance of predators, future resource conflicts and ownership stability, and public and landowner attitudes.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Cover Requirements

More info for the terms: cover, density

Black-footed ferrets use prairie dog burrows for raising young, avoiding predators, and thermal cover [28,36,39]. Six black-footed ferret nests found near Mellette County, South Dakota, were lined with buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides), prairie threeawn (Aristita oligantha), sixweeks grass (Vulpia octoflora), and cheatgrass [65]. High densities of prairie dog burrows provide the greatest amount of cover for black-footed ferrets [28,39,61]. Black-tailed prairie dog colonies contain a greater burrow density per acre than white-tailed prairie dog colonies, and may be more suitable for the recovery of black-footed ferrets [39].

Type of prairie dog burrow may be important for occupancy by black-footed ferrets. Black-footed ferret litters near Meeteetse, Wyoming, were associated with mounded white-tailed prairie dog burrows, which are are less common than non-mounded burrows. Mounded burrows contain multiple entrances and probably have a deep and extensive burrow system that protects kits [28,39]. According to Richardson and others [61], however, black-footed ferrets used non-mounded prairie dog burrows (64%) more often than mounded burrows (30%) near Meeteetse, Wyoming.

  • 28. Forrest, S. C.; Clark, T. W.; Richardson, L.; Campbell, T. M., III. 1985. Black-footed ferret habitat: some management and reintroduction considerations. Wyoming BLM Wildlife Tech. Bull. No. 2. Cheyenne, WY: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 35 p. In cooperation with: Wyoming Game and Fish Department. [67030]
  • 36. Hillman, Conrad N. 1968. Life history and ecology of the black-footed ferret in the wild. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 28 p. Thesis. [66626]
  • 39. Houston, B. R.; Clark, Tim W.; Minta, S. C. 1986. Habitat suitability index model for the black-footed ferret: a method to locate transplant sites. Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs. 8: 99-114. [66628]
  • 61. Richardson, Louise; Clark, Tim W.; Forrest, Steven C.; Campbell, Thomas M., III. 1987. Winter ecology of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) at Meeteetse, Wyoming. The American Midland Naturalist. 117(2): 225-239. [66953]
  • 65. Sheets, Robert G. 1970. Ecology of the black-footed ferret and the black-tailed prairie dog. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 42 p. Thesis. [66641]

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Preferred Habitat

More info for the terms: cover, density, hibernation, litter, shrub

The black-footed ferret is apparently an obligate-dependent species (but see [58]), requiring white-tailed prairie dogs, black-tailed prairie dogs, or Gunnison's prairie dogs (Cynomys gunnisoni) for survival (see Food habits and Cover Requirements) [6,10,13,29,36,49,53,53,54,64].

The distribution, density, and potential for prairie dog colony expansion are important factors in identifying preferred habitat for black-footed ferrets [20,28]. Vegetation does not appear to have a direct influence on black-footed ferret distribution [20,28] and should not be considered an important factor when identifying suitable habitat for reintroduction [20].

Stand- and landscape-level habitat: As of 2007, the only wild population of black-footed ferrets occurs within 37 white-tailed prairie dog colonies in a grass/shrubsteppe vegetation community near Meeteetse, Wyoming (see Animal Distribution and Occurrence) [12,16,17,20,30]. Vegetation has been heavily grazed by domestic sheep, cattle, and horses for over 100 years [20]. Elevation ranges from 6,496 to 7,513 feet (1,980-2,290 m), and slopes do not exceed 30% [20,28]. Soils are shallow (1.6 feet (0.5 m)) [28], well-drained, and comprised of clay loams or clays derived from shale parent materials, which are ideal for prairie dog burrow construction. For more details on vegetation type and total percentage of cover, shrub density, topography, soils, climate, and geology near Meeteetse, Wyoming, see Collins and Lichvar [20] and Clark [13].

Black-footed ferrets cannot sustain their populations if prairie dog colonies are too small and the intercolony distance is too large [39]. In general, 1 black-footed ferret requires an area of 100 to 120 acres (40-49 ha) containing prairie dogs to survive [15,18,39]. To support 1 litter, approximately 99 to 148 acres (40-60 ha) of prairie dog habitat are required [18,28,30,38]; however, these numbers may vary depending on whether black-footed ferrets occupy white-tailed prairie dog colonies or black-tailed prairie dog colonies (see Food habits) [68].

In Mellette County, South Dakota, black-footed ferrets occupied black-tailed prairie dog colonies. Before the population disappeared, black-footed ferrets occupied 14 of 86 black-tailed prairie dog colonies, ranging from 20 to 35 acres (8-14 ha) in size. Four sites were located near creeks, 5 were in rolling grasslands, 4 were on flatlands, and 1 was located in a badland area [36].

Near Meeteetse, Wyoming, black-footed ferrets live within white-tailed prairie dog colonies, which range from 1.2 to 3,217.0 acres (0.5-1,302.0 ha) [28]. The mean distance between white-tailed prairie dog colonies is 0.57 miles (0.92 km) (range 0.08 to 2.30 miles (0.13-3.70 km)) [28,39,61]. The mean distance between white-tailed prairie dog colonies inhabited by black-footed ferrets is 3.4 miles (5.4 km) (range 0.6 to 6.9 miles (1.0-11.1 km)) [38].

Home range and density: Data are sparse on home range size for black-footed ferrets. Female black-footed ferrets have smaller home ranges than males. Home ranges of males may sometimes include the home ranges of several females [5,28,61]. Adult females usually occupy the same territory every year [53]. A female that was tracked for 4 months (December to March) occupied 39.5 acres (16.0 ha). Her territory was overlapped by a resident male that occupied 337.5 acres (136.6 ha) during the same period [28].

The average density of black-footed ferrets near Meeteetse, Wyoming, is estimated at 1 black-footed ferret /99 to148 acres (40-60 ha). As of 1985, 40 to 60 black-footed ferrets occupied a total of 6,178 to 7,413 acres (2,500-3,000 ha) of white-tailed prairie dog habitat [28,29,39].

Movement: From 1982 to 1984, the average year-round movement of 15 black-footed ferrets between white-tailed prairie dog colonies was 1.6 miles/night (2.5 km) ((SD ± 1.1 miles (1.7 km)) [28]. Movement of black-footed ferrets between prairie dog colonies is influenced by factors including breeding activity, season, sex, intraspecific territoriality, prey density, and expansion of home ranges with declining population density [5,12,28,30,61]. Movements of black-footed ferrets have been shown to increase during the breeding season [12,28]; however, snow-tracking from December to March over a 4-year period near Meeteetse, Wyoming revealed that factors other than breeding were responsible for movement distances [61]. One black-footed ferret (sex not given) near Meeteetse, Wyoming, traveled an average of 331 feet (101 m)/night prior to the breeding season and 19,370 feet (5,905 m)/night during the breeding season [12].

Temperature is positively correlated with distance of black-footed ferret movement [61]. Snow-tracking from December to March over a 4-year period near Meeteetse, Wyoming, revealed that movement distances were shortest during winter and longest between February and April, when black-footed ferrets were breeding and white-tailed prairie dogs emerged from hibernation. Nightly movement distance of 170 black-footed ferrets averaged 0.87 miles (1.41 km) (range 0.001 to 6.91 miles (0.002-11.12 km)). Nightly activity areas of black-footed ferrets ranged from 1.0 to 337.5 acres (0.4-136.6 ha), and were larger from February to March (x=110.2 acres (44.6 ha)) than from December to January (x=33.6 acres (13.6 ha)) [61]. Adult females establish activity areas based on access to food for rearing young. Males establish activity areas to maximize access to females, resulting in larger activity areas than those of females [61].

Prey density may account for movement distances. Black-footed ferrets may travel up to 11 miles (17 km) to seek prey, suggesting that they will interchange freely among white-tailed prairie dog colonies that are less than 11 miles apart [28]. In areas of high prey density, black-footed ferret movements were nonlinear in character, probably to avoid predators [61]. From December to March over a 4-year study period, black-footed ferrets investigated 68 white-tailed prairie dog holes per 1 mile (2 km) of travel/night. Distance traveled between white-tailed prairie dog burrows from December to March averaged 74.2 feet (22.6 m) (n=149 track routes)[61].

Population trends: Black-footed ferrets experience large population fluctuations that are determined by population density, prey availability, predation, and disease [30]. Populations are highest after kits first appear aboveground in summer [29,30]. A conservative minimum viable population size estimate for black-footed ferrets based on genetic considerations is 100 breeding individuals/12,360 acres (5,000 ha) [12,28,39] (see Management Considerations).

  • 5. Biggins, Dean E.; Schroeder, Max; Forrest, Steve; Richardson, Louise. 1985. Movements and habitat relationships of radio-tagged black-footed ferrets. In: Anderson, Stanley H.; Inkley, Douglas B., eds. Black-footed ferret workshop: Proceedings; 1984 September 18-19; Laramie, WY. Cheyenne, WY: Wyoming Department of Fish and Game: 11.1 to 11.17. [66589]
  • 6. Buskirk, Steven W. 2000. The conservation status of New World mustelids. In: Griffiths, Huw I., ed. Mustelids in a modern world: Management and conservation aspects of small carnivore-human interactions. Leiden, The Netherlands: Backhuys Publishers: 41-52. [66591]
  • 10. Clark, Tim W. 1976. The black-footed ferret. Oryx. 13(3): 275-280. [66596]
  • 12. Clark, Tim W. 1985. The Meeteetse black-footed ferret conservation studies. National Geographic Research. 1(2): 299-302. [66607]
  • 13. Clark, Tim W. 1986. Some guidelines for management of the black-footed ferret. Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs. 8: 160-168. [66598]
  • 15. Clark, Tim W. 1987. Restoring balance between the endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) and human use of the Great Plains and Intermountain West. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences. 77(4): 168-173. [66601]
  • 16. Clark, Tim W. 1994. Restoration of the endangered black-footed ferret: a 20-year overview. In: Bowles, Marlin L.; Whelan, Christopher J., eds. Restoration of endangered species: Conceptual issues, planning, and implementation. New York: Cambridge University Press: 272-297. [66618]
  • 17. Clark, Tim W.; Forrest, Steven C.; Richardson, Louise; Casey, Denise E.; Campbell, Thomas M., III. 1986. Description and history of the Meeteetse black-footed ferret environment. Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs. 8: 72-84. [66604]
  • 18. Cohn, Jeffrey P. 1991. Ferrets return from near-extinction. Bioscience. 41(3): 132-135. [20004]
  • 20. Collins, Ellen I.; Lichvar, Robert W. 1986. Vegetation inventory of current and historic black-footed ferret habitat in Wyoming. Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs. 8: 85-93. [66616]
  • 28. Forrest, S. C.; Clark, T. W.; Richardson, L.; Campbell, T. M., III. 1985. Black-footed ferret habitat: some management and reintroduction considerations. Wyoming BLM Wildlife Tech. Bull. No. 2. Cheyenne, WY: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 35 p. In cooperation with: Wyoming Game and Fish Department. [67030]
  • 29. Forrest, Steve; Clark, Tim W.; Richardson, Louise; Biggins, Dean; Fagerstone, Kathleen; Campbell, Thomas M., III. 1985. Life history characteristics of the genus Mustela, with special reference to the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes). In: Anderson, Stanley H.; Inkley, Douglas B., eds. Black-footed ferret workshop: Proceedings; 1984 September 18-19; Laramie, WY. Cheyenne, WY: Wyoming Game and Fish Department: 23.1-23.14. [66614]
  • 30. Forrest, Steven C.; Biggins, Dean E.; Richardson, Louise; Clark, Tim W.; Campbell, Thomas M., III; Fagerstone, Kathleen A.; Thorne, E. Tom. 1988. Population attributes for the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) at Meeteetse, Wyoming, 1981-1985. Journal of Mammalogy. 69(2): 261-273. [67793]
  • 36. Hillman, Conrad N. 1968. Life history and ecology of the black-footed ferret in the wild. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 28 p. Thesis. [66626]
  • 38. Hillman, Conrad N.; Linder, Raymond L.; Dahlgren, Robert B. 1979. Prairie dog distribution in areas inhabited by black-footed ferrets. The American Midland Naturalist. 102(1): 185-187. [66624]
  • 39. Houston, B. R.; Clark, Tim W.; Minta, S. C. 1986. Habitat suitability index model for the black-footed ferret: a method to locate transplant sites. Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs. 8: 99-114. [66628]
  • 49. Linder, Raymond L.; Hillman, Conrad N. 1973. Proceedings of the black-footed ferret and prairie dog workshop; 1973 September 4-6; Rapid City, SD. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 208 p. [66632]
  • 53. Miller, Brian J.; Anderson, Stanley H.; DonCarlos, Michael W; Thorne, E. Tom. 1988. Biology of the endangered black-footed ferret and the role of captive propagation in its conservation. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 66(4): 765-773. [66637]
  • 54. Miller, Brian J.; Menkens, George E.; Anderson, Stanley H. 1988. A field habitat model for black-footed ferrets. In: Uresk, Daniel W.; Schenbeck, Greg L.; Cefkin, Rose, tech, coords. 8th Great Plains wildlife damage control workshop proceedings; 1987 April 28-30; Rapid City, SD. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-154. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 98-102. [66956]
  • 58. Owen, Pamela R.; Bell, Christopher J.; Mead, Emilee M. 2000. Fossils, diet, and conservation of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes). Journal of Mammology. 81(2): 422-433. [66860]
  • 61. Richardson, Louise; Clark, Tim W.; Forrest, Steven C.; Campbell, Thomas M., III. 1987. Winter ecology of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) at Meeteetse, Wyoming. The American Midland Naturalist. 117(2): 225-239. [66953]
  • 64. Sharps, Jon C.; Uresk, Daniel W. 1990. Ecological review of black-tailed prairie dogs and associated species in western South Dakota. The Great Basin Naturalist. 50(4): 339-344. [14895]
  • 68. Stromberg, Mark R.; Rayburn, R. Lee; Clark, Tim W. 1983. Black-footed ferret prey requirements: an energy balance estimate. Jounal of Wildlife Management. 47(1): 67-73. [66858]

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Associated Plant Communities

More info for the term: shrub

Historical habitats of the black-footed ferret included shortgrass prairie [41,49,65], mixed-grass prairie [27,49], desert grassland [51], shrub steppe [12,75], sagebrush steppe [7,11,12,20,30], mountain grassland, and semi-arid grassland [37].

Vegetation types occurring in 4 inventoried historic black-footed ferret habitats in Wyoming include: birdfoot sagebrush (Artemisia petadifida)/ western wheatgrass (Pascopyron smithii); big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata); low sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula)/mixed-grass (bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus elymoides), western wheatgrass, and Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda)); Gardner's saltbush (Atriplex gardneri)/mixed-grass (Sandberg bluegrass and cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum)); thickspike wheatgrass (Elymus lanceolatus)-threadleaf sedge (Carex filifolia); mixed shrub (Artemisia spp.)/mixed-grass (thickspike wheatgrass and blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis)); and Gardner's saltbush [20].

Current habitat occupied by black-footed ferrets near Meeteetse, Wyoming, is wheatgrass (Agropyron spp.)-needlegrass (Stipa spp.) shrubsteppe (Artemisia spp.), dominated by bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata), western wheatgrass, prairie junegrass (Koeleria macrantha), and big sagebrush [12,16,17,20,30]. Suitable habitat for black-footed ferrets near Meeteetse, Wyoming, may include meadows or saltbush (Atriplex spp.)/rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.) [5].

Information about plant communities at black-footed ferret reintroduction sites is sparse. In Aubrey Valley, Arizona, habitat is grassland dominated by blue grama, galleta grass (Hilaria jamesii), Indian ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides), and other unspecified grasses [1].

  • 5. Biggins, Dean E.; Schroeder, Max; Forrest, Steve; Richardson, Louise. 1985. Movements and habitat relationships of radio-tagged black-footed ferrets. In: Anderson, Stanley H.; Inkley, Douglas B., eds. Black-footed ferret workshop: Proceedings; 1984 September 18-19; Laramie, WY. Cheyenne, WY: Wyoming Department of Fish and Game: 11.1 to 11.17. [66589]
  • 11. Clark, Tim W. 1985. Black-footed ferret studies in Wyoming. In: Swainson, Winfield, ed. National Geographic Society: Research reports. 18: 223-231. [66862]
  • 12. Clark, Tim W. 1985. The Meeteetse black-footed ferret conservation studies. National Geographic Research. 1(2): 299-302. [66607]
  • 16. Clark, Tim W. 1994. Restoration of the endangered black-footed ferret: a 20-year overview. In: Bowles, Marlin L.; Whelan, Christopher J., eds. Restoration of endangered species: Conceptual issues, planning, and implementation. New York: Cambridge University Press: 272-297. [66618]
  • 17. Clark, Tim W.; Forrest, Steven C.; Richardson, Louise; Casey, Denise E.; Campbell, Thomas M., III. 1986. Description and history of the Meeteetse black-footed ferret environment. Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs. 8: 72-84. [66604]
  • 20. Collins, Ellen I.; Lichvar, Robert W. 1986. Vegetation inventory of current and historic black-footed ferret habitat in Wyoming. Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs. 8: 85-93. [66616]
  • 27. Fahnestock, Jace T.; Larson, Diane L.; Plumb, Glenn E.; Detling, James K. 2003. Effects of ungulates and prairie dogs on seed banks and vegetation in a North American mixed-grass prairie. Plant Ecology. 167(2): 255-268. [60482]
  • 30. Forrest, Steven C.; Biggins, Dean E.; Richardson, Louise; Clark, Tim W.; Campbell, Thomas M., III; Fagerstone, Kathleen A.; Thorne, E. Tom. 1988. Population attributes for the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) at Meeteetse, Wyoming, 1981-1985. Journal of Mammalogy. 69(2): 261-273. [67793]
  • 37. Hillman, Conrad N.; Clark, Tim W. 1980. Mustela nigripes. Mammalian Species. 126: 1-3. [66951]
  • 41. Johnsgard, Paul A. 2005. Prairie dog empire: A saga of the shortgrass prairie. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. 243 p. [64722]
  • 49. Linder, Raymond L.; Hillman, Conrad N. 1973. Proceedings of the black-footed ferret and prairie dog workshop; 1973 September 4-6; Rapid City, SD. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 208 p. [66632]
  • 65. Sheets, Robert G. 1970. Ecology of the black-footed ferret and the black-tailed prairie dog. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 42 p. Thesis. [66641]
  • 75. West, Neil E. 1983. Southeastern Utah galleta-threeawn shrub steppe. In: West, Neil E., ed. Temperate deserts and semi-deserts. New York: Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company: 413-421. (Goodall, David W., ed. in chief; Ecosystems of the world--vol. 5). [2509]
  • 1. Arizona Game and Fish Department. 2007. Black-footed ferret, [Online]. Phoenix, AZ: Arizona Game and Fish Department (Producer). Available: http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/blackfooted_ferret.shtml [2007, October 14]. [68270]
  • 7. Campbell, Thomas M., III; Clark, Tim W.; Richardson, Louise; [and others]. 1987. Food habits of Wyoming black-footed ferrets. The American Midland Naturalist. 117(1): 208-210. [19730]
  • 51. McAllister, C.; Beckert, H.; Abrams, C.; Bilyard, G.; Cadwell, K.; Friant, S.; Glantz, C.; Mazaika, R.; Miller, K. 1996. Survey of ecological resources at selected U.S. Department of Energy sites, [Online]. U.S. Department of Energy (Producer). Available: http://homer.ornl.gov/oepa/guidance/risk/ecores.pdf [2004, January 21]. [46457]

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

This species is an inhabitant of shortgrass and midgrass prairies (5), where there is an abundance of prairie dog 'towns' (Cynomys species) (7). A very large area of suitable habitat with a large population of prairie dogs is required to support the species; a single black-footed ferret needs between 40 and 60 hectares (7).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Trophic Strategy

Black-footed ferrets rely primarily on prairie dogs for food. However, they sometimes eat mice, ground squirrels, and other small animals. Normally, over 90% of a black-footed ferret's diet consists of prairie dogs, which are hunted and killed within their burrows. A black-footed ferret typically consumes between 50-70 grams of meat per day. It has been observed that black-footed ferrets only kill enough to eat, and caches of stored food are not usually found (Massicot 2000, Wilson & Ruff 1999, Nowak 1991, Hillman & Clark 1980).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Comments: Prairie dogs are an important food source; one study (N=82) found prairie dog remains in 91% of analyzed ferret scats (Hillman and Clark 1980). Alternate prey probably eaten when necessary, (e.g., ground squirrels, cottontail rabbits, deer mice). Owen et al. (2000) point out that Pleistocene populations M. NIGRIPES did not need prairie dogs to survive; many fossil sites are associated with abundant ground squirrel (SPERMOPHILUS) remains, with no evidence of prairie dogs.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Food Habits

More info for the terms: hibernation, litter

Up to 91% of black-footed ferret diet is composed of prairie dogs [18,34,36,65,66]. Most research indicates that prairie dogs are required prey for black-footed ferrets [6,10,13,16,26,36,53,53,64,67]. However, according to Owen and others [58], established colonies of prairie dogs may not be a prerequisite for successful reintroductions of black-footed ferrets. Anecdotal observations and 42% of examined fossil records indicated that any substantial colony of medium- to large-sized colonial ground squirrels, such as Richardson's ground squirrels (Spermophilus richardsonii), may provide a sufficient prey base and a source of burrows for black-footed ferrets. This suggests that black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs did not historically have an obligate predator-prey relationship [58].

Diet of black-footed ferrets varies depending on geographic location. In western Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana, black-footed ferrets historically associated with white-tailed prairie dogs and were required to find alternate prey when white-tailed prairie dogs hibernated for 4 months of the year [10,34]. In Wyoming, alternate prey items consumed during white-tailed prairie dog hibernation included voles (Microtus spp.) and mice (Peromyscus spp. and Mus spp.) found near streams. In South Dakota, black-footed ferrets associate with black-tailed prairie dogs. Because black-tailed prairie dogs do not hibernate, little seasonal change in black-footed ferret diet is necessary [10,61].

In Mellette County, South Dakota, black-tailed prairie dog remains occurred in 91% of 82 black-footed ferret scats. Mouse remains occurred in 26% of scats. Mouse remains could not be identified to species; however, deer mice, northern grasshopper mice (Onychomys leucogaster), and house mice (Mus musculus) were captured in snap-trap surveys [66]. Potential prey items included thirteen-lined ground squirrels (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus), plains pocket gophers (Geomys bursarius), mountain cottontails (Sylvilagus nuttallii), upland sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda), horned larks (Eremophila alpestris), and western meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta) [36].

Based on 86 black-footed ferret scats found near Meeteetse, Wyoming, 87% of black-footed ferret diet was composed of white-tailed prairie dogs. Other food items included deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus), sagebrush voles (Lemmiscus curtatus), meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus), mountain cottontails , and white-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus townsendii) [7]. Water is obtained through consumption of prey [39].

One adult female black-footed ferret and her litter require approximately 474 to 1,421 black-tailed prairie dogs/year or 412 to 1,236 white-tailed prairie dogs/year for sustenance. These figures assume that each adult black-footed ferret occupies 1 prairie dog colony, each young black-footed ferret will disperse to a new colony when mature, and prairie dogs are the only prey species available. This dietary requirement would require protection of 91 to 235 acres (37-95 ha) of black-tailed prairie dog habitat or 413 to 877 acres (167-355 ha) of white-tailed prairie dog habitat for each female black-footed ferret with a litter [68].

  • 6. Buskirk, Steven W. 2000. The conservation status of New World mustelids. In: Griffiths, Huw I., ed. Mustelids in a modern world: Management and conservation aspects of small carnivore-human interactions. Leiden, The Netherlands: Backhuys Publishers: 41-52. [66591]
  • 10. Clark, Tim W. 1976. The black-footed ferret. Oryx. 13(3): 275-280. [66596]
  • 13. Clark, Tim W. 1986. Some guidelines for management of the black-footed ferret. Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs. 8: 160-168. [66598]
  • 16. Clark, Tim W. 1994. Restoration of the endangered black-footed ferret: a 20-year overview. In: Bowles, Marlin L.; Whelan, Christopher J., eds. Restoration of endangered species: Conceptual issues, planning, and implementation. New York: Cambridge University Press: 272-297. [66618]
  • 18. Cohn, Jeffrey P. 1991. Ferrets return from near-extinction. Bioscience. 41(3): 132-135. [20004]
  • 26. Evans, Keith E.; Probasco, George E. 1977. Wildlife of the prairies and plains. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-29. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 18 p. [14118]
  • 34. Herman, Margaret; Willard, E. Earl. 1978. Black-footed ferret and its habitat. Missoula, MT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, National Forest System Cooperative Forestry, Forestry Research, Region 1. 24 p. [21527]
  • 36. Hillman, Conrad N. 1968. Life history and ecology of the black-footed ferret in the wild. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 28 p. Thesis. [66626]
  • 39. Houston, B. R.; Clark, Tim W.; Minta, S. C. 1986. Habitat suitability index model for the black-footed ferret: a method to locate transplant sites. Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs. 8: 99-114. [66628]
  • 53. Miller, Brian J.; Anderson, Stanley H.; DonCarlos, Michael W; Thorne, E. Tom. 1988. Biology of the endangered black-footed ferret and the role of captive propagation in its conservation. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 66(4): 765-773. [66637]
  • 58. Owen, Pamela R.; Bell, Christopher J.; Mead, Emilee M. 2000. Fossils, diet, and conservation of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes). Journal of Mammology. 81(2): 422-433. [66860]
  • 61. Richardson, Louise; Clark, Tim W.; Forrest, Steven C.; Campbell, Thomas M., III. 1987. Winter ecology of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) at Meeteetse, Wyoming. The American Midland Naturalist. 117(2): 225-239. [66953]
  • 64. Sharps, Jon C.; Uresk, Daniel W. 1990. Ecological review of black-tailed prairie dogs and associated species in western South Dakota. The Great Basin Naturalist. 50(4): 339-344. [14895]
  • 65. Sheets, Robert G. 1970. Ecology of the black-footed ferret and the black-tailed prairie dog. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 42 p. Thesis. [66641]
  • 66. Sheets, Robert G.; Linder, Raymond L.; Dahlgren, Robert B. 1972. Food habits of two litters of black-footed ferrets in South Dakota. The American Midland Naturalist. 87(1): 249-251. [66857]
  • 67. Stockrahm, Donna M. Bruns; Olson, Theresa Ebbenga; Harper, Elizabeth K. 1993. Plant species in black-tailed prairie dog towns in Billings County, North Dakota. Prairie Naturalist. 25(2): 173-183. [23167]
  • 68. Stromberg, Mark R.; Rayburn, R. Lee; Clark, Tim W. 1983. Black-footed ferret prey requirements: an energy balance estimate. Jounal of Wildlife Management. 47(1): 67-73. [66858]
  • 7. Campbell, Thomas M., III; Clark, Tim W.; Richardson, Louise; [and others]. 1987. Food habits of Wyoming black-footed ferrets. The American Midland Naturalist. 117(1): 208-210. [19730]

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Associations

Predators

Predators of black-footed ferrets include golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) [30,36,41], great-horned owls (Bubo virginianus) [28,30,36,41], coyotes [15,28,30,36,41], American badgers (Taxidea taxus) [15,28,30,36,41], bobcats (Lynx rufus) [28,36], prairie falcons (Falco mexicanus), ferruginous hawks (Buteo regalis) [28,30,36], and prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis) [36].
  • 15. Clark, Tim W. 1987. Restoring balance between the endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) and human use of the Great Plains and Intermountain West. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences. 77(4): 168-173. [66601]
  • 28. Forrest, S. C.; Clark, T. W.; Richardson, L.; Campbell, T. M., III. 1985. Black-footed ferret habitat: some management and reintroduction considerations. Wyoming BLM Wildlife Tech. Bull. No. 2. Cheyenne, WY: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 35 p. In cooperation with: Wyoming Game and Fish Department. [67030]
  • 30. Forrest, Steven C.; Biggins, Dean E.; Richardson, Louise; Clark, Tim W.; Campbell, Thomas M., III; Fagerstone, Kathleen A.; Thorne, E. Tom. 1988. Population attributes for the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) at Meeteetse, Wyoming, 1981-1985. Journal of Mammalogy. 69(2): 261-273. [67793]
  • 36. Hillman, Conrad N. 1968. Life history and ecology of the black-footed ferret in the wild. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 28 p. Thesis. [66626]
  • 41. Johnsgard, Paul A. 2005. Prairie dog empire: A saga of the shortgrass prairie. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. 243 p. [64722]

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 6 - 20

Comments: At present, populations exist at several reintroduction sites in Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Chihuahua (USFWS 2000, Bard 2002).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Global Abundance

250 - 1000 individuals

Comments: This species was nearly extinct in the late 1980s. Captive breeding has been successful. Several hundred individuals exist in captivity and in reintroduced populations in several states and Mexico (Bard 2002). As of late 2005, a total of about 400 were alive in the wild in all the states where releases have occurred.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

General Ecology

Secretive, rarely observed except at night. Probably solitary except during breeding season. Closely associated with prairie dogs. May range over area of up to 100 ha during 3-8 day period in winter (Rickart 1987). Two reintroduced ferrets in Shirley Basin moved three and five miles before settling. See Forrest et al. 1988 for population attributes of Meeteetse colony, 1981-1985.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Habitat-related Fire Effects

More info for the terms: cover, density, fire regime, low-severity fire, natural, selection, severity, shrub, shrubs

As of 2007, no research has examined HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS for the black-footed ferret, and little is known about the effects of fire on prairie dogs. Despite the lack of information, some inferences may be possible. Because black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs occupy the same vegetation communities, HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS may be similar between the 2 species. If fire decreases or destroys prairie dog populations, associated black-footed ferret populations would most likely suffer from a loss in the prey base (see Food habits) and cover (see Cover Requirements).

An FEIS review on the black-tailed prairie dog suggests that fire may have positive or negative effects, depending on burn severity and season. Low-severity burns conducted during spring in non-drought years may stimulate the growth of black-tailed prairie dog colonies by reducing vegetational height and density at the colony periphery [24,25,35,40,42,43,44,55,57,60,69,73,76]. Prescribed burning and mechanical brush removal around the perimeter of black-tailed prairie dog colonies may encourage the expansion of black-tailed prairie dog colonies. High-severity burns have the potential of reducing habitat quality in a black-tailed prairie dog colony, at least in the short-term [67]. During the plant growing season, the absence of fire provides optimal conditions for black-tailed prairie dog colony growth [44]. For more information about HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS for the black-tailed prairie dog, see the FEIS review on the black-tailed prairie dog.

To increase the total area of prairie dog colonies in locations such as Grasslands National Park, range improvement via burning, seeding, grazing, or mowing tall vegetation is recommended before introducing black-footed ferrets [45]. Reintroductions of black-footed ferrets have been carried out at several locations (see Animal Distribution and Occurrence) but as of 2007, very little information has been published about habitat types at reintroduction sites, so HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS are unknown. If the habitat type is known at a black-footed ferret reintroduction site, refer to the table below for fire regime information.

The following table provides fire regime information on vegetation communities in which black-footed ferrets may occur. The selection of vegetation communities was based on vegetation communities inhabited by black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs, as well as limited historical data on black-footed ferret habitat. There is not conclusive evidence that black-footed ferrets occur in all of the habitat types listed, and some community types, especially those used rarely, may have been omitted.

Fire regime information on vegetation communities in which the black-footed ferret may occur. For each community, fire regime characteristics are taken from the LANDFIRE Rapid Assessment Vegetation Models [47]. These vegetation models were developed by local experts using available literature, local data, and/or expert opinion as documented in the .pdf file linked from each Potential Natural Vegetation Group listed below. Cells are blank where information is not available in the Rapid Assessment Vegetation Model.
Southwest Great Basin Northern Rockies
Northern Great Plains South-central US
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
Southwest
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
Southwest Grassland
Desert grassland Replacement 85% 12    
Surface or low 15% 67    
Desert grassland with shrubs and trees Replacement 85% 12    
Mixed 15% 70    
Shortgrass prairie Replacement 87% 12 2 35
Mixed 13% 80    
Shortgrass prairie with shrubs Replacement 80% 15 2 35
Mixed 20% 60    
Shortgrass prairie with trees Replacement 80% 15 2 35
Mixed 20% 60    
Plains mesa grassland Replacement 81% 20 3 30
Mixed 19% 85 3 150
Plains mesa grassland with shrubs or trees Replacement 76% 20    
Mixed 24% 65    
Montane and subalpine grasslands Replacement 55% 18 10 100
Surface or low 45% 22    
Montane and subalpine grasslands with shrubs or trees Replacement 30% 70 10 100
Surface or low 70% 30    
Southwest Shrubland
Southwestern shrub steppe Replacement 72% 14 8 15
Mixed 13% 75 70 80
Surface or low 15% 69 60 100
Low sagebrush shrubland Replacement 100% 125 60 150
Mountain sagebrush (cool sage) Replacement 75% 100    
Mixed 25% 300    
Great Basin
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
Great Basin Grassland
Great Basin grassland Replacement 33% 75 40 110
Mixed 67% 37 20 54
Great Basin Shrubland
Basin big sagebrush Replacement 80% 50 10 100
Mixed 20% 200 50 300
Wyoming big sagebrush semidesert Replacement 86% 200 30 200
Mixed 9% >1,000 20 >1,000
Surface or low 5% >1,000 20 >1,000
Wyoming sagebrush steppe Replacement 89% 92 30 120
Mixed 11% 714 120  
Mountain big sagebrush Replacement 100% 48 15 100
Mountain sagebrush (cool sage) Replacement 75% 100    
Mixed 25% 300    
Black and low sagebrushes Replacement 33% 243 100  
Mixed 67% 119 75 140
Black and low sagebrushes with trees Replacement 37% 227 150 290
Mixed 63% 136 50 190
Northern Rockies
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
Northern Rockies Grassland
Northern prairie grassland Replacement 55% 22 2 40
Mixed 45% 27 10 50
Mountain grassland Replacement 60% 20 10  
Mixed 40% 30    
Northern Rockies Shrubland
Wyoming big sagebrush Replacement 63% 145 80 240
Mixed 37% 250    
Basin big sagebrush Replacement 60% 100 10 150
Mixed 40% 150    
Low sagebrush shrubland Replacement 100% 125 60 150
Mountain big sagebrush steppe and shrubland Replacement 100% 70 30 200
Northern Great Plains
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
Northern Plains Grassland
Northern mixed-grass prairie Replacement 67% 15 8 25
Mixed 33% 30 15 35
Southern mixed-grass prairie Replacement 100% 9 1 10
South-central US
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
South-central US Grassland
Desert grassland Replacement 82% 8    
Mixed 18% 37    
Southern shortgrass or mixed-grass prairie Replacement 100% 8 1 10
South-central US Shrubland
Southwestern shrub steppe Replacement 76% 12    
Mixed 24% 37    
*Fire Severities:
Replacement=Any fire that causes greater than 75% top removal of a vegetation-fuel type, resulting in general replacement of existing vegetation; may or may not cause a lethal effect on the plants.
Mixed=Any fire burning more than 5% of an area that does not qualify as a replacement, surface, or low-severity fire; includes mosaic and other fires that are intermediate in effects,
Surface or low=Any fire that causes less than 25% upper layer replacement and/or removal in a vegetation-fuel class but burns 5% or more of the area [33].
  • 45. Laing, Richard. 1986. The reestablishment of the black-footed ferret to the Canadian prairie. Natural History Occasional Paper. Edmonton, AB: Provincial Museum of Alberta. 9: 293-297. [66630]
  • 67. Stockrahm, Donna M. Bruns; Olson, Theresa Ebbenga; Harper, Elizabeth K. 1993. Plant species in black-tailed prairie dog towns in Billings County, North Dakota. Prairie Naturalist. 25(2): 173-183. [23167]
  • 47. LANDFIRE Rapid Assessment. 2007. Rapid assessment reference condition models. In: LANDFIRE. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Lab; U.S. Geological Survey; The Nature Conservancy (Producers). Available: http://www.landfire.gov/models_EW.php [66533]
  • 24. Dittberner, Phillip L.; Olson, Michael R. 1983. The Plant Information Network (PIN) data base: Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. FWS/OBS-83/86. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 786 p. [806]
  • 25. Enevoldsen, Myron E.; Lewis, James K. 1978. Effect of range site and range condition on height and location of the shoot apex in vegetative shoots of western wheatgrass. In: Hyder, Donald N., ed. Proceedingsof the 1st international rangeland congress; 1978 August 14-18; Denver, CO. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management: 387-391. [864]
  • 35. Higgins, Kenneth F.; Kruse, Arnold D.; Piehl, James L. 1989. Effects of fire in the Northern Great Plains. Ext. Circ. EC-761. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University, Cooperative Extension Service; South Dakota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. 47 p. [14749]
  • 40. Hulbert, Lloyd C. 1969. Fire and litter effects in undisturbed bluestem prairie in Kansas. Ecology. 50(5): 874-877. [1204]
  • 42. Kamstra, L. D. 1973. Seasonal changes in quality of some important range grasses. Journal of Range Management. 26: 289-291. [5739]
  • 44. Klukas, Richard W. 1988. Management of prairie dog populations in Wind Cave National Park. In: Uresk, Daniel W.; Schenbeck, Greg L.; Cefkin, Rose, tech. coords. 8th Great Plains wildlife damage control workshop proceedings; 1987 April 28-30; Rapid City, SD. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-154. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 50-52. [67297]
  • 55. Milne-Laux, Sara; Sweitzer, Richard A. 2006. Experimentally induced colony expansion by black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) and implications for conservation. Journal of Mammalogy. 87(2): 296-303. [66725]
  • 57. Nernberg, Dean J. 1995. Landscape prairie restoration: a mixed-grass prairie perspective. In: Hartnett, David C., ed. Proceedings, 14th North American prairie conference: prairie biodiversity; 1994 July 12-16. Manhattan, KS: Kansas State University: 185-197. [27573]
  • 60. Rice, Elroy L.; Parenti, Robert L. 1978. Causes of decreases in productivity in undisturbed tall grass prairie. American Journal of Botany. 65(10): 1091-1097. [1966]
  • 69. Towne, Gene; Owensby, Clenton. 1984. Long-term effects of annual burning at different dates in ungrazed Kansas tallgrass prairie. Journal of Range Management. 37(5): 392-397. [2357]
  • 73. Vogl, Richard J. 1974. Effects of fire on grasslands. In: Kozlowski, T. T.; Ahlgren, C. E., eds. Fire and ecosystems. New York: Academic Press: 139-194. [15401]
  • 33. Hann, Wendel; Havlina, Doug; Shlisky, Ayn; [and others]. 2005. Interagency fire regime condition class guidebook. Version 1.2, [Online]. In: Interagency fire regime condition class website. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service; U.S. Department of the Interior; The Nature Conservancy; Systems for Environmental Management (Producer). Variously paginated [+ appendices]. Available: http://www.frcc.gov/docs/1.2.2.2/Complete_Guidebook_V1.2.pdf [2007, May 23]. [66734]
  • 43. Kirsch, Leo; Kruse, Arnold. 1978. Fire effects: mixed prairie - North Dakota. In: Linne, James M., ed. BLM guidelines for prairie/plains plant communities to incorporate fire use/management into activity plans and fire use plans. In: Prairie prescribed burning symposium and workshop: Proceedings; 1978 April 25-28; Jamestown, ND. [Place of publication unknown]: [Publisher unknown]. 5 p. On file with: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Lab, Missoula, MT. [30648]
  • 76. Whisenant, Steven G.; Uresk, Dan W. [n.d.]. Effects of fire on vital attributes of a South Dakota, mixed prairie. Draft manuscript. On file with: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT. 23 p. [17135]

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Direct Effects of Fire

More info for the terms: fire severity, severity

There are no reports of direct black-footed ferret mortality due to fire. Subterranean burrows may serve as protection from fire depending on fire severity [23].
  • 23. de Vos, A. 1969. Ecological conditions affecting the production of wild herbivorous mammals on grasslands. In: Cragg, J. B., ed. Advances in ecological research. Vol. 6. NY: Academic Press: 137-179. [19357]

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Timing of Major Life History Events

More info for the terms: altricial, cover, litter

LIFE HISTORY:
Little is known about the life history, behavior, or ecology of black-footed ferrets due to their nocturnal and subterranean habits [29,37,49,53,61] and their rarity. Reproductive physiology of the black-footed ferret is similar to that of the European polecat (Mustela putorius) and the steppe polecat (Mustela eversmanii) [53].

Mating: Black-footed ferrets are probably polygynous, based on data collected from home range sizes, skewed sex ratios, and sexual dimorphism [5,28,30,61]. Mating occurs in February and March [15,61]. Unlike other mustelids, black-footed ferrets are habitat specialists and have low reproductive rates [8,30]. The sex ratio of adults near Meeteetse, Wyoming, was 1 male:2.2 females (n=128) [30].

Reproductive success: Reproductive success in the wild is unknown.

Gestation period and litter size: In captivity, gestation of black-footed ferrets lasts 42 to 45 days [8]. Litter size ranges from 1 to 5 kits [10,29,48]. In Mellette County, South Dakota, mean litter size was 3.4 kits (n=11) [48]. Near Meeteetse, Wyoming, mean litter size over a 4-year period was 3.3 kits (n=68) [30]. Kits are born in May and June [71] in prairie dog burrows (see Cover Requirements) [39].

Development: Kits are altricial and are raised by their mother for several months after birth [41,63]. Kits first emerge above ground in July, at 6 weeks old [30,36,71]. They are then separated into individual prairie dog burrows around their mother's burrow [36,53,63]. Kits reach adult weight and become independent several months following birth, from late August to October [5,30,36,63]. Sexual maturity occurs at 1 year old [36].

Social organization: Black-footed ferrets are solitary, except when breeding or raising litters [28,39,53,61,62].

Habits: Black-footed ferrets are primarily nocturnal [10,31,39,41]. They are most active above ground from dusk to midnight and 4 AM to midmorning [36]. Aboveground activity is greatest during late summer and early fall when juveniles become independent [5,36]. Climate generally does not limit black-footed ferret activity [36,61], but they may remain inactive inside burrows for up to 6 days at a time during winter [15].

Dispersal: Intercolony dispersal of juvenile black-footed ferrets occurs several months after birth, from early September to early November. Dispersal distances may be short or long. Near Meeteetse, Wyoming, 9 juvenile males and 3 juvenile females dispersed 1 to 4 miles (1-7 km) following litter breakup. Four juvenile females dispersed a short distance (<0.2 miles (0.3 km)) but remained on their natal area. One juvenile female remained on her mother's home range and reared a litter the following year in her mother's absence [30].

Mortality: Primary causes of mortality include habitat loss, human-introduced diseases, and indirect poisoning from prairie dog control [10,14,15,36,41,50,63,71]. Annual mortality of juvenile and adult black-footed ferrets over a 4-year period ranged from 59% to 83% (n=128) near Meeteetse, Wyoming [30]. During fall and winter, 50% to 70% of juveniles and older animals "disappear" due to emigration or death [28,29,30]. Average lifespan in the wild is probably only 1 year [29] but may be up to 5 years [4,41]. Males have higher rates of mortality than females due to longer dispersal distances when they are most vulnerable to predators [30].

Given an obligate-dependence of black-footed ferrets on prairie dogs (but see [58]), black-footed ferrets are extremely vulnerable to prairie dog habitat loss (see Preferred Habitat and Management Considerations) [53,54]. Habitat loss results from agriculture, livestock use, and other development [56,71].

Black-footed ferrets are susceptible to numerous diseases. They are fatally susceptible to canine distemper (Morbilivirus) [8,30,37], introduced by striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), common raccoons (Procyon lotor), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), coyotes (Canis latrans) [15,16], and American badgers (Taxidea taxus) [15]. A short-term vaccine for canine distemper is available for captive black-footed ferrets, but no protection is available for young born in the wild [8,31]. Other diseases that black-footed ferrets are susceptible to include rabies, tularemia, and human influenza [41]. Sylvatic plague (Yersinia pestis) probably does not directly affect black-footed ferrets, but epidemics in prairie dog towns may completely destroy the black-footed ferrets' prey base (see Food habits) [19,30,41,50,63].

  • 4. Beers, Cody. 2000. The ferret fights on. Wyoming Wildlife. 64(11): 30-37. [66585]
  • 5. Biggins, Dean E.; Schroeder, Max; Forrest, Steve; Richardson, Louise. 1985. Movements and habitat relationships of radio-tagged black-footed ferrets. In: Anderson, Stanley H.; Inkley, Douglas B., eds. Black-footed ferret workshop: Proceedings; 1984 September 18-19; Laramie, WY. Cheyenne, WY: Wyoming Department of Fish and Game: 11.1 to 11.17. [66589]
  • 8. Carpenter, James W.; Hillman, Conrad N. 1979. Husbandry, reproduction and veterinary care of captive ferrets. In: American Association of Zoo Veterinarians annual proceedings; 1978; Knoxville, TN. Yulee, FL: American Association of Zoo Veterinarians: 36-47. [67847]
  • 10. Clark, Tim W. 1976. The black-footed ferret. Oryx. 13(3): 275-280. [66596]
  • 15. Clark, Tim W. 1987. Restoring balance between the endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) and human use of the Great Plains and Intermountain West. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences. 77(4): 168-173. [66601]
  • 16. Clark, Tim W. 1994. Restoration of the endangered black-footed ferret: a 20-year overview. In: Bowles, Marlin L.; Whelan, Christopher J., eds. Restoration of endangered species: Conceptual issues, planning, and implementation. New York: Cambridge University Press: 272-297. [66618]
  • 28. Forrest, S. C.; Clark, T. W.; Richardson, L.; Campbell, T. M., III. 1985. Black-footed ferret habitat: some management and reintroduction considerations. Wyoming BLM Wildlife Tech. Bull. No. 2. Cheyenne, WY: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 35 p. In cooperation with: Wyoming Game and Fish Department. [67030]
  • 29. Forrest, Steve; Clark, Tim W.; Richardson, Louise; Biggins, Dean; Fagerstone, Kathleen; Campbell, Thomas M., III. 1985. Life history characteristics of the genus Mustela, with special reference to the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes). In: Anderson, Stanley H.; Inkley, Douglas B., eds. Black-footed ferret workshop: Proceedings; 1984 September 18-19; Laramie, WY. Cheyenne, WY: Wyoming Game and Fish Department: 23.1-23.14. [66614]
  • 30. Forrest, Steven C.; Biggins, Dean E.; Richardson, Louise; Clark, Tim W.; Campbell, Thomas M., III; Fagerstone, Kathleen A.; Thorne, E. Tom. 1988. Population attributes for the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) at Meeteetse, Wyoming, 1981-1985. Journal of Mammalogy. 69(2): 261-273. [67793]
  • 31. Godbey, Jerry; Biggins, Dean. 1994. Recovery of the black-footed ferret: looking back, looking forward. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 19(1): 10, 13. [22663]
  • 36. Hillman, Conrad N. 1968. Life history and ecology of the black-footed ferret in the wild. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 28 p. Thesis. [66626]
  • 37. Hillman, Conrad N.; Clark, Tim W. 1980. Mustela nigripes. Mammalian Species. 126: 1-3. [66951]
  • 39. Houston, B. R.; Clark, Tim W.; Minta, S. C. 1986. Habitat suitability index model for the black-footed ferret: a method to locate transplant sites. Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs. 8: 99-114. [66628]
  • 41. Johnsgard, Paul A. 2005. Prairie dog empire: A saga of the shortgrass prairie. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. 243 p. [64722]
  • 48. Linder, Raymond L.; Dahlgren, Robert B.; Hillman, Conrad N. 1973. Black-footed ferret-prairie dog interrelationships. In: Symposium on rare and endangered wildlife of the southwestern United States; 1972 September 22-23; Albuquerque, NM. Santa Fe, NM: New Mexico Department of Game and Fish: 22-37. [66634]
  • 49. Linder, Raymond L.; Hillman, Conrad N. 1973. Proceedings of the black-footed ferret and prairie dog workshop; 1973 September 4-6; Rapid City, SD. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 208 p. [66632]
  • 50. Maguire, Lynn A.; Clark, Tim W.; Crete, Ronald; Cada, John; Groves, Craig; Shaffer, Mark L.; Seal, Ulysses S. 1988. Black-footed ferret recovery in Montana: a decision analysis. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 16(2): 111-120. [66954]
  • 53. Miller, Brian J.; Anderson, Stanley H.; DonCarlos, Michael W; Thorne, E. Tom. 1988. Biology of the endangered black-footed ferret and the role of captive propagation in its conservation. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 66(4): 765-773. [66637]
  • 54. Miller, Brian J.; Menkens, George E.; Anderson, Stanley H. 1988. A field habitat model for black-footed ferrets. In: Uresk, Daniel W.; Schenbeck, Greg L.; Cefkin, Rose, tech, coords. 8th Great Plains wildlife damage control workshop proceedings; 1987 April 28-30; Rapid City, SD. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-154. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 98-102. [66956]
  • 58. Owen, Pamela R.; Bell, Christopher J.; Mead, Emilee M. 2000. Fossils, diet, and conservation of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes). Journal of Mammology. 81(2): 422-433. [66860]
  • 61. Richardson, Louise; Clark, Tim W.; Forrest, Steven C.; Campbell, Thomas M., III. 1987. Winter ecology of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) at Meeteetse, Wyoming. The American Midland Naturalist. 117(2): 225-239. [66953]
  • 14. Clark, Tim W. 1987. Black-footed ferret recovery: a progress report. Conservation Biology. 1(1): 8-10. [19861]
  • 19. Collinge, Sharon K.; Johnson, Whitney C.; Ray, Chris; Matchett, Randy; Grensten, John; Cully, Jack F., Jr.; Gage, Kenneth L.; Kosoy, Michael Y.; Loye, Jenella E.; Martin, Andrew P. 2005. Landscape structure and plague occurrence in black-tailed prairie dogs on grasslands of the western USA. Landscape Ecology. 20(8): 941-955. [66713]
  • 56. Mulhern, Daniel W.; Knowles, Craig J. 1997. Black-tailed prairie dog status and future conservation planning. In: Uresk, Daniel W.; Schenbeck, Greg L.; O'Rourke, James T., tech. coords. Conserving biodiversity on native rangelands: symposium proceedings; 1995 August 17; Fort Robinson State Park, NE. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-GTR-298. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 19-29. [28053]
  • 62. Rickel, Bryce. 2005. Chapter 3: small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. In: Finch, Deborah M., ed. Assessment of grassland ecosystem conditions in the southewestern United States: wildlife and fish--volume 2. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-135-vol. 2. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 35-69. [60892]
  • 63. Schroeder, Max. 1987. The black-footed ferret. In: Di Silvetro, Roger L., ed. Audubon wildlife report 1987. Orlando, FL: Academic Press, Inc.: 447-455. [66639]
  • 71. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1988. Species account: Black-footed ferret--Mustela nigripes, [Online]. In: Endangered Species Program. Pierre, SD: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mountain-Prairie Region, South Dakota Ecological Services Field Office (Producer). Available: http://www.fws.gov/southdakotafieldoffice/b-fferret.htm [2007, June 18]. [66965]

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Cyclicity

Comments: Less active in winter; inactive for periods of up to 6 nights and days (Rickart 1987).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Life Expectancy

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
12.0 years.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 9.4 years (captivity) Observations: It has been reported that these animals may live up to 12 years (Bernhard Grzimek 1990), which is possible but unverified. Record longevity in captivity belongs to one specimen that lived 9.4 years (Richard Weigl 2005). Further studies are necessary.
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Joao Pedro de Magalhaes

Source: AnAge

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Reproduction

Females become sexually mature at the age of one year. The breeding season typically extends through March and April. The gestation period ranges from 35-45 days. Litters range from 1-6 young, with an average litter size of 3.5 young. Young remain in the burrow for about 42 days before coming aboveground. During the summer months of July and August females and their young stay together, in the fall they separate as the young ferrets reach their independence. Females ferrets have three pairs of mammae. Ferrets are sexually dimorphic, with males being larger than the female. During the mating season, females aggressively solicit males. Black-footed ferrets exhibit a phenomenon known as "delayed implantation," in which the fertilized egg does not start developing until conditions are appropriate for gestation (Massicot 2000, Wilson & Ruff 1999, Nowak 1991, Hillman & Clark 1980).

Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual

Average gestation period: 43 days.

Average number of offspring: 3.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)

Sex: male:
365 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
365 days.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

In captivy, copulation occurred in March and early April. Gestation was 42 and 45 days for 1 female in 2 breeding seasons. In wild, litter size in South Dakota averaged 3.5 (range 1-5) (Hillman and Clark 1980), 3.3 at emergence in Wyoming (Forrest et al. 1988). Young appear above ground usually in July, disperse in fall. At least some females reproduce as yearlings (Forrest et al. 1988).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Mustela nigripes

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 7
Species With Barcodes: 1
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Barcode of Life Data Systems

Source: Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD)

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Conservation

Conservation Status

The spread of cattle ranching, farming and urban development in the 20th Century in the Great Plains has greatly stressed the North American prairie ecosystem. Ranchers asserted that grazing by prairie dogs deprived cattle of much otherwise available forage and began a campaign to eradicate this ‘pest’ species through strychnine poisoning (Jachowski and Lockhart, 2009). Black-footed ferrets, being a highly specialized predator on prairie dogs thus declined. In 1964 black-footed ferrets were believed to be extinct when a remnant population was found in South Dakota (Howard et al, 2002). Captive breeding of animals from this population was attempted at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, but ultimately failed due to a flawed canine distemper vaccine and the disappearance of the wild population. In 1981the species was again believed extinct when a ranch dog near Meeteese,Wyoming brought home a dead ferret. From 1985 to 1987 the last 18 individuals were captured and brought into captivity, but only seven produced offspring. Since then the program has produced well over 6,000 animals. Over 3,000 captive-born ferrets have been released at 18 release sites ranging across the Great Plains and one in Mexico. Of these sites only two, Shirley Basin in Wyoming and Conata Basin in South Dakota, are showing a natural increase in population size. The ferret populations at the other sites may currently be too low to ensure survival into the future. Black-footed ferret prospects improve with larger habitat area and greater densities of prairie dogs. In addition diseases, such as plague or canine distemper, can wipe out ferrets locally. As of 2009 there are estimated to be over 800 black-footed ferrets in the wild, but only about 300 breeding adults (Jachowski and Lockhart, 2009).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© Ososky, John

Source: EOL Rapid Response Team

Trusted

Article rating from 1 person

Average rating: 4.0 of 5

Considered to be North America's rarest mammal. Black-footed ferrets have been heavily impacted by the extermination of prairie dogs. Ranchers poisoned prairie dogs because of destruction (tunneling and foraging) to rangelands. With the disappearance of prairie dogs, so too went black-footed ferrets. Numbers dropped to an astounding 31 in 1985, and by 1987 they were extinct in the wild. Of the original 100 million acres of black-footed ferret habitat, only 2 million acres remain. Many ferrets were also killed by a canine distemper epidemic that spread through the American grasslands.

Captive breeding and reintroduction programs are underway in several locations throughtout North America (Massicot 2000)

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: appendix i

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 1 person

Average rating: 3.0 of 5

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
D

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Belant, J., Gober, P. & Biggins, D.

Reviewer/s
Duckworth, J.W. (Small Carnivore Red List Authority) & Schipper, J. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
This species is listed as Endangered due to very small and restricted populations, where there are <250 wild born (non-reintroduced) mature individuals distributed among several reestablished populations. Of the 18 current sites where this species has been reintroduced, only three have viable populations. In 1987, this species was considered Extinct in the Wild, current populations have been the result of massive efforts to reintroduce captive animals back to the wild. Although formerly widespread in central North America, it currently exists only as reintroduced populations. The species declined throughout this century to near extinction by the late 1970's, primarily as a result of prairie dog control actions and sylvatic plague. However, after a captive breeding program, it was reintroduced by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service into eight western states and Mexico from 1991-2008. At present, it is considered self-sustaining at only three locations (two in South Dakota and one in Wyoming). Even with augmentation, wild ferret populations remain small, fragmented, and intensively managed.

History
  • 1996
    Extinct in the Wild
  • 1994
    Endangered
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Endangered
    (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988
    Endangered
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
  • 1986
    Endangered
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
  • 1982
    Endangered
    (Thornback and Jenkins 1982)
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: NX - Presumed Extirpated

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N1 - Critically Imperiled

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G1 - Critically Imperiled

Reasons: Formerly widespread in central North America; virtually or actually exterminated from the wild by 1987, primarily as a result of prairie dog and predator control actions; captive breeding and reintroductions in several areas have been successful at establishing reproducing populations.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 03/11/1967
Lead Region:   Mountain-Prairie Region (Region 6)   
Where Listed: entire population, except where EXPN

Status: Experimental Population, Non-Essential
Date Listed: 08/21/1991
Lead Region:   Mountain-Prairie Region (Region 6)   
Where Listed: U.S.A. (specific portions of AZ, CO, MT, SD, UT, and WY)


Population detail:

Population location: Entire, except where listed as an experimental population below
Listing status: E

Population location: U.S.A. (specific portions of AZ, CO, MT, SD, UT, and WY, see 17.84(g))
Listing status: EXPN

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Mustela nigripes , see its USFWS Species Profile

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

U.S. Federal Legal Status

Black-footed ferrets are listed as Experimental Populations (nonessential) in portions of Arizona, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming and as Endangered in other portions of its range [70].
  • 70. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 2013. Endangered Species Program, [Online]. Available: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/. [86564]

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Status

Extinct in the Wild.
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Smithsonian Institution

Source: Smithsonian's North American Mammals

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Status

Classified as Endangered (EN) by the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (4).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Population

Population
At present there are no known nonintroduced wild populations (Nowak, 2005), and only three of the populations contain mature individuals which were born in the wild. This species nearly went extinct in the late 1980s and existing populations are the success of massive efforts to reintroduce the species back to its native habitat. Captive breeding has been successful. Only several hundred individuals exist in captivity and in reintroduced populations in several US states and Mexico (Bard 2002).

Reintroduction began in 1991 with the release of a group of ferrets into the Shirley Basin of Wyoming. Since 1987, over 6,000 ferret kits have been produced through captive breeding and since 1991, over 2,000 ferrets have been released at 18 sites. All populations are sampled and counted two times a year as part of a management and recovery protocol. There are currently (spring count 2008) nearly 300 ferrets in captivity and approximately 500 breeding adults in the wild, less than 250 of which were actually born in the wild. These minimum population estimates occur in the spring. Maximum population estimates occur in the fall, include young of the year, and consist of an estimated 1,000 ferrets in the wild and 300 captive adults.

Population Trend
Increasing
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Global Short Term Trend: Increase of 10 to >25%

Comments: Captive and wild populations have increased to several hundred individuals (Bard 2002).

Global Long Term Trend: Decline of >90%

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Threats

Major Threats
The extreme dependence of this mustelid on prairie dogs (Cynomys) made it especially vulnerable to extinction as its prey were persecuted as agricultural pests during most of the 20th century (Biggins and Godbey, 2003). Populations rapidly declined as a result of widespread extermination of prairie dogs and the spread of canine distemper and plague (Biggins and Godbey 1995, Biggins et al. 1998). Plague is an exotic disease that did not exist in North America prior to 1900. It can impact the ferret directly via infection and subsequent mortality, and indirectly through mortality to prairie dogs and resultant dramatic declines in the ferrets' prey base.

Populations of black-footed ferrets declined throughout this century to near extinction by the late 1970's (Biggins and Schroeder 1988). A small remnant population (around 100 animals or less; Schreiber et al. 1989) was discovered in 1981 near Meeteetse, in northwestern Wyoming, but that population was decimated by canine distemper and plague (Yersinia pestis) in 1985 (Forrest et al. 1988).

Another major threat for this mustelid is loss of habitat for conversion of grasslands to agricultural uses; the remaining habitat is now fragmented by great expanses of cropland and human development. In addition, the genetic diversity of the present introduced population is less than 90% of that present in the species prior to their decline in the wild. This decrease in genetic diversity has lead to increased inbreeding and may lead to decreased fitness due to inbreeding depression, including immune system dysfunction and reduced reproductive success (Bronson et al. 2007).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Degree of Threat: Medium

Comments: The species was extirpated from most of the former large range mainly as a result of prairie dog and predator control programs. Canine distemper, in conjunction with captures for captive breeding, resulted in extirpation of the last known wild population by early 1987. See Forrest et al. (1988) and Thorne and Williams (1988) for information on the distemper-caused decline that occurred in 1985.

Black-footed ferrets are highly susceptible to sylvatic plague. In nature, they could be exposed either by fleabite or consumption of infected prey. This disease has severely hampered efforts to restore ferrets to their historical range. Experimental results indicate that black-footed ferrets can be immunized against plague (Rocke et al. 2004). However, control of plague in black-footed ferrets and the ultimate recovery of the species will require control of the disease in their primary prey (prairie dogs) (Rocke et al. 2004).

Predation by coyote and badger and dispersal have been the primary problems at the Shirley Basin site (1994, End. Sp. Tech. Bull. 19(1):10, 13).

Reading and Kellert (1993) found that ranchers within a proposed reintroduction site in Phillips County, Montana, were antagonistic toward the reintroduction program. As of 2005, there was an on-going conflict between ranchers wanting to control prairie dog populations on grazing lands (through poisoning and recreational shoorting) and those wishing to protect and expand ferret habitat (i.e., prairie dog populations).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

The number of black-footed ferrets plummeted in the first half of the 20th century, primarily as a result of habitat loss. Prairies have been modified for intensive agriculture and there is now less than two percent of the original ferret habitat left (3). The ferret's main prey, prairie dogs, were systematically poisoned in vast tracts of their habitat by a government eradication programme in the mid 1900s (5). Prairie dog burrows were thought to damage cropland and ferret numbers fell in direct proportion with the dramatic decline of their prey (3). The final threat to black-footed ferret numbers, and perhaps the most pertinent today, is disease, particularly canine distemper and plague (3). Plague, introduced to North America, causes even greater devastation in populations of prairie dogs and ferrets than it caused in human populations of Europe and Asia (8).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
The black-footed ferret captive breeding program was initiated in October 1985 by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in cooperation with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Eighteen black-footed ferrets were captured between 1985 and 1987 from the last-known population in Wyoming to start a captive breeding population (Miller et al., 1996), with the ultimate goal of reintroduction. Seven of those 18 individuals contributed unique genetic material for captive breeding and are considered founders. There are currently six institutions (one federal facility and five zoos) participating in the propagation program under the supervision of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Beginning in 1985, more than 6,000 black-footed ferrets have been born in captivity. Beginning in 1991, ferrets have been reintroduced at sites in eight Western U.S. states (Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Kansas, and New Mexico) and one site in Mexico (Bard, 2002; Bronson et al., 2007). The species is listed on CITES Appendix I and in listed in the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Restoration Potential: Captive breeding has been highly successful.

Preserve Selection and Design Considerations: See Bevers et al. (1997) for information on spatial optimization of prairie dog colonies for ferret recovery.

Management Requirements: See Seal et al. (1989) for discussion of captive propagation and aspects of population biology relevant to reintroduction. See Federal Register, 18 August 1994, for reintroduction protocols for South Dakota and Montana.

See Oldemeyer et al. (1993) for information on the management of prairie dog complexes for the reintroduction of black-footed ferret. Owen et al. (2000) point out that Pleistocene M. NIGRIPES did not need prairie dogs to survive; many fossil sites are associated with abundant ground squirrel (SPERMOPHILUS) remains, with no evidence of prairie dogs.

Management Research Needs: See Miller et al. (in Oldemeyer et al. 1993) for a list of questions for management and research, related to ferret reintroduction, in priority order in each category of disease, habitat management, population dynamics, and public relations.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Global Protection: Several (4-12) occurrences appropriately protected and managed

Needs: This species is in need of continued protection of all extant occurrences. Recovery remains dependent on captive breeding and reintroduction.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Use of Fire in Population Management

More info for the terms: fire severity, fire use, severity

Data on black-footed ferrets and fire do not currently exist, and data on prairie dog's response to fire are sparse. Fire may or may not be beneficial to black-tailed prairie dogs, depending on fire severity and season [24,25,35,42,43,44,57,67,76]. Due to the black-footed ferret's reliance on prairie dogs, fire will most likely affect the 2 species similarly. An FEIS review on the black-tailed prairie dog's response to fire may be helpful in determining fire use in areas occupied by black-footed ferrets (see black-tailed prairie dog).
  • 67. Stockrahm, Donna M. Bruns; Olson, Theresa Ebbenga; Harper, Elizabeth K. 1993. Plant species in black-tailed prairie dog towns in Billings County, North Dakota. Prairie Naturalist. 25(2): 173-183. [23167]
  • 24. Dittberner, Phillip L.; Olson, Michael R. 1983. The Plant Information Network (PIN) data base: Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. FWS/OBS-83/86. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 786 p. [806]
  • 25. Enevoldsen, Myron E.; Lewis, James K. 1978. Effect of range site and range condition on height and location of the shoot apex in vegetative shoots of western wheatgrass. In: Hyder, Donald N., ed. Proceedingsof the 1st international rangeland congress; 1978 August 14-18; Denver, CO. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management: 387-391. [864]
  • 35. Higgins, Kenneth F.; Kruse, Arnold D.; Piehl, James L. 1989. Effects of fire in the Northern Great Plains. Ext. Circ. EC-761. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University, Cooperative Extension Service; South Dakota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. 47 p. [14749]
  • 42. Kamstra, L. D. 1973. Seasonal changes in quality of some important range grasses. Journal of Range Management. 26: 289-291. [5739]
  • 44. Klukas, Richard W. 1988. Management of prairie dog populations in Wind Cave National Park. In: Uresk, Daniel W.; Schenbeck, Greg L.; Cefkin, Rose, tech. coords. 8th Great Plains wildlife damage control workshop proceedings; 1987 April 28-30; Rapid City, SD. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-154. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 50-52. [67297]
  • 57. Nernberg, Dean J. 1995. Landscape prairie restoration: a mixed-grass prairie perspective. In: Hartnett, David C., ed. Proceedings, 14th North American prairie conference: prairie biodiversity; 1994 July 12-16. Manhattan, KS: Kansas State University: 185-197. [27573]
  • 43. Kirsch, Leo; Kruse, Arnold. 1978. Fire effects: mixed prairie - North Dakota. In: Linne, James M., ed. BLM guidelines for prairie/plains plant communities to incorporate fire use/management into activity plans and fire use plans. In: Prairie prescribed burning symposium and workshop: Proceedings; 1978 April 25-28; Jamestown, ND. [Place of publication unknown]: [Publisher unknown]. 5 p. On file with: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Lab, Missoula, MT. [30648]
  • 76. Whisenant, Steven G.; Uresk, Dan W. [n.d.]. Effects of fire on vital attributes of a South Dakota, mixed prairie. Draft manuscript. On file with: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT. 23 p. [17135]

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Management Considerations

More info for the terms: cover, density, natural, presence

As of December 2006, 700 black-footed ferrets exist in the wild [71]. The national goal for a change in status of the black-footed ferret from endangered to threatened is to establish 10 wild, self-sustaining populations, each containing >30 breeding adults, and a total of 1,500 individuals spread over the widest possible geographic area [16,71]. Recovery efforts for black-footed ferrets include preserving prairie dog habitat [7,10,11,12,13,16,53,67], preserving remaining wild black-footed ferret populations, locating new black-footed ferret populations, and captive breeding and reintroduction into wild habitats [11,13,39,49].

Historically, large, nearly contiguous prairie dog colonies were interspersed with small, isolated colonies [28]. As a result of habitat fragmentation and eradication programs, prairie dog colonies are now smaller and more fragmented [7]. Prairie dog populations have recovered in many areas of the United States; however, the size and distribution of protected colonies are probably not sufficient to support large, stable populations of black-footed ferrets [53]. Clark [11] suggests that in rare species management, habitat should receive priority over scientific measurements.

To attract and maintain black-footed ferret populations, colony size and intercolony distance of prairie dogs are important [16,28]. Small peripheral prairie dog colonies that are associated with larger prairie dog colonies may be beneficial for occupancy by black-footed ferrets [30]. Hillman and others [38] and Forrest and others [28] recommend that each prairie dog colony within a complex of prairie dog colonies be >30 acres (12 ha), and ideally >124 acres (50 ha) in area. A preliminary estimate of 9,884 to 14,830 acres (4,000-6,000 ha) of prairie dog habitat is needed to support a minimum viable population of 100 black-footed ferrets [28,39]. Prairie dog complexes of this size are ideal but rare. Black-footed ferret populations can be maintained on smaller prairie dog complexes if genetic and population manipulations are conducted [28]. If prairie dog colonies are too small and spaced too far apart, black-footed ferrets will not be able to sustain themselves due to lack of food, burrows, and thermal cover. If prairie dog colonies are large and close together, it is easier for black-footed ferrets to move among prairie dog colonies [28,39]. In order to support black-footed ferret populations, most prairie dog colonies within a complex should occur within 4 miles (7 km) of each other, which is the distance that 1 black-footed ferret may travel in 1 night [28]. See Forrest and others [28] for a hypothetical prairie dog complex that may support black-footed ferrets. 

White-tailed prairie dogs and black-tailed prairie dog colonies may offer slightly different advantages to black-footed ferrets. Some research suggests that black-footed ferrets may have a better chance of survival within black-tailed prairie dog colonies located in the Great Plains than those within white-tailed prairie dog colonies located in Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado [10,16]. Great Plains habitat supports dense colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs covering extensive areas, compared to white-tailed prairie dog habitat, where populations rarely exceed 100 individuals or several hectares in size. Burrow density is greater in Great Plains habitat, providing more cover for black-footed ferrets [39]. Because black-tailed prairie dogs do not hibernate, they provide a year-round food source for black-footed ferrets. The Great Plains also have more rainfall and more productive vegetation than white-tailed prairie dog habitat [10,16,39]. Other research suggests that black-footed ferrets have a better chance of survival within white-tailed prairie dog colonies because white-tailed prairie dogs occupy less-defined living areas, so the spread of sylvatic plague is inhibited [4,28].

A habitat suitability index model was designed by Houston and others [39] to locate reintroduction sites for black-footed ferrets. The model assumes that black-footed ferrets can meet year-round requirements in prairie dog colonies provided that prairie dog colonies are large enough, their burrows are numerous enough, and adequate prey are available for black-footed ferrets. The habitat suitability model should apply throughout the black-footed ferret's historic range [39]. A field habitat model was created by Miller and others [54] to compare prairie dog complexes with known black-footed ferret habitat. The model was created as an inexpensive method to search for black-footed ferret populations and to provide a rapid method for initial identification of prairie dog complexes to be considered for reintroduction sites. After sites are identified, they could be analyzed for reintroduction potential by Houston and others' [39] model [54].

Locating additional wild black-footed ferret populations may increase chances of recovery [16]. Trench-like formations are reliable indicators of black-footed ferret presence. Black-footed ferrets dig 2 to 10 foot (1-3 m) long trenches in prairie dog burrows to modify burrows and locate prey [36,49,61]. Prairie dogs destroy the trenches and plug new black-footed ferret burrows within 2 hours of sunrise. Black-footed ferret surveys must therefore be conducted before sunrise [49].

Captive breeding currently occurs at several zoos and the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center in Wyoming [71]. Captive breeding of black-footed ferrets allows population genetics, predation, and disease to be monitored and controlled [53]. Breeding black-footed ferrets in captivity and finding suitable sites for reintroduction are difficult [50]. Some problems associated with raising black-footed ferrets in captivity include abnormal physical features, lack of critical behavioral skills, and diseases [31]. For information about husbandry and veterinary care of black-footed ferrets, see Carpenter and Hillman [8]. Despite positive results with captive breeding, habitat destruction and disease in natural habitats will continue to be an issue [53].

Habitat management activities suggested for black-footed ferrets occupying white-tailed prairie dog colonies include: 1) recording white-tailed prairie dog emergence and breeding in late winter; 2) determining white-tailed prairie dog reproductive success in late spring; 3) mapping active and inactive white-tailed prairie dog colonies each fall; and 4) surveying alternate prey populations in late summer and early fall. For a detailed outline of annual monitoring and protection management needed for black-footed ferrets in Meeteetse, Wyoming, see Clark [13].

For information about current recovery efforts for the black-footed ferret, see the website for the National Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Program.

Domestic livestock grazing: According to Carrier and Czech [9], where wildlife occupy ecosystems used for livestock forage, grazing often alters these ecosystems, and native species often experience population declines as a result. Black-footed ferrets are a "priority species" in Arizona and New Mexico, meaning that they should receive greater consideration than non-priority wildlife species during development of management strategies related to livestock grazing [78].

Linder and others [48] recommend preserving prairie dog colonies for black-footed ferrets by obtaining easements from ranchers. A rancher could continue grazing livestock in a normal manner, but an easement could stipulate that prairie dogs not be eliminated or controlled using methods that are detrimental to black-footed ferrets. The rancher could be compensated for any increase in the size of prairie dog colonies. Miller and others [53] suggest an integrated management plan that satisfies ranchers and the conservation of grasslands. Federal money that is traditionally allocated to the prairie dog poisoning program could be used as a rebate for ranchers that manage livestock and preserve prairie dog colonies [53].

Other: Oil and natural gas exploration and extraction can have detrimental impacts on prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets. Seismic activity collapses prairie dog burrows. Other problems include potential leakages and spills, increased roads and fences, increased vehicle traffic and human presence, and an increased number of raptor perching sites on power poles. Traps set for coyotes, American mink (Mustela vison), and other animals may harm black-footed ferrets [13].

Native American tribes including the Crow, Blackfoot, Sioux, Cheyenne, and Pawnee used black-footed ferrets for religious rites and for food [10].

  • 4. Beers, Cody. 2000. The ferret fights on. Wyoming Wildlife. 64(11): 30-37. [66585]
  • 8. Carpenter, James W.; Hillman, Conrad N. 1979. Husbandry, reproduction and veterinary care of captive ferrets. In: American Association of Zoo Veterinarians annual proceedings; 1978; Knoxville, TN. Yulee, FL: American Association of Zoo Veterinarians: 36-47. [67847]
  • 9. Carrier, W. Dean; Czech, Brian. 1996. Threatened and endangered wildlife and livestock interactions. In: Krausman, Paul R., ed. Rangeland wildlife. Denver, CO: The Society for Range Management: 39-47. [27319]
  • 10. Clark, Tim W. 1976. The black-footed ferret. Oryx. 13(3): 275-280. [66596]
  • 11. Clark, Tim W. 1985. Black-footed ferret studies in Wyoming. In: Swainson, Winfield, ed. National Geographic Society: Research reports. 18: 223-231. [66862]
  • 12. Clark, Tim W. 1985. The Meeteetse black-footed ferret conservation studies. National Geographic Research. 1(2): 299-302. [66607]
  • 13. Clark, Tim W. 1986. Some guidelines for management of the black-footed ferret. Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs. 8: 160-168. [66598]
  • 16. Clark, Tim W. 1994. Restoration of the endangered black-footed ferret: a 20-year overview. In: Bowles, Marlin L.; Whelan, Christopher J., eds. Restoration of endangered species: Conceptual issues, planning, and implementation. New York: Cambridge University Press: 272-297. [66618]
  • 28. Forrest, S. C.; Clark, T. W.; Richardson, L.; Campbell, T. M., III. 1985. Black-footed ferret habitat: some management and reintroduction considerations. Wyoming BLM Wildlife Tech. Bull. No. 2. Cheyenne, WY: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 35 p. In cooperation with: Wyoming Game and Fish Department. [67030]
  • 30. Forrest, Steven C.; Biggins, Dean E.; Richardson, Louise; Clark, Tim W.; Campbell, Thomas M., III; Fagerstone, Kathleen A.; Thorne, E. Tom. 1988. Population attributes for the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) at Meeteetse, Wyoming, 1981-1985. Journal of Mammalogy. 69(2): 261-273. [67793]
  • 31. Godbey, Jerry; Biggins, Dean. 1994. Recovery of the black-footed ferret: looking back, looking forward. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 19(1): 10, 13. [22663]
  • 36. Hillman, Conrad N. 1968. Life history and ecology of the black-footed ferret in the wild. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 28 p. Thesis. [66626]
  • 38. Hillman, Conrad N.; Linder, Raymond L.; Dahlgren, Robert B. 1979. Prairie dog distribution in areas inhabited by black-footed ferrets. The American Midland Naturalist. 102(1): 185-187. [66624]
  • 39. Houston, B. R.; Clark, Tim W.; Minta, S. C. 1986. Habitat suitability index model for the black-footed ferret: a method to locate transplant sites. Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs. 8: 99-114. [66628]
  • 48. Linder, Raymond L.; Dahlgren, Robert B.; Hillman, Conrad N. 1973. Black-footed ferret-prairie dog interrelationships. In: Symposium on rare and endangered wildlife of the southwestern United States; 1972 September 22-23; Albuquerque, NM. Santa Fe, NM: New Mexico Department of Game and Fish: 22-37. [66634]
  • 49. Linder, Raymond L.; Hillman, Conrad N. 1973. Proceedings of the black-footed ferret and prairie dog workshop; 1973 September 4-6; Rapid City, SD. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 208 p. [66632]
  • 50. Maguire, Lynn A.; Clark, Tim W.; Crete, Ronald; Cada, John; Groves, Craig; Shaffer, Mark L.; Seal, Ulysses S. 1988. Black-footed ferret recovery in Montana: a decision analysis. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 16(2): 111-120. [66954]
  • 53. Miller, Brian J.; Anderson, Stanley H.; DonCarlos, Michael W; Thorne, E. Tom. 1988. Biology of the endangered black-footed ferret and the role of captive propagation in its conservation. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 66(4): 765-773. [66637]
  • 54. Miller, Brian J.; Menkens, George E.; Anderson, Stanley H. 1988. A field habitat model for black-footed ferrets. In: Uresk, Daniel W.; Schenbeck, Greg L.; Cefkin, Rose, tech, coords. 8th Great Plains wildlife damage control workshop proceedings; 1987 April 28-30; Rapid City, SD. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-154. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 98-102. [66956]
  • 61. Richardson, Louise; Clark, Tim W.; Forrest, Steven C.; Campbell, Thomas M., III. 1987. Winter ecology of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) at Meeteetse, Wyoming. The American Midland Naturalist. 117(2): 225-239. [66953]
  • 67. Stockrahm, Donna M. Bruns; Olson, Theresa Ebbenga; Harper, Elizabeth K. 1993. Plant species in black-tailed prairie dog towns in Billings County, North Dakota. Prairie Naturalist. 25(2): 173-183. [23167]
  • 7. Campbell, Thomas M., III; Clark, Tim W.; Richardson, Louise; [and others]. 1987. Food habits of Wyoming black-footed ferrets. The American Midland Naturalist. 117(1): 208-210. [19730]
  • 71. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1988. Species account: Black-footed ferret--Mustela nigripes, [Online]. In: Endangered Species Program. Pierre, SD: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mountain-Prairie Region, South Dakota Ecological Services Field Office (Producer). Available: http://www.fws.gov/southdakotafieldoffice/b-fferret.htm [2007, June 18]. [66965]
  • 78. Zwartjes, Patrick W.; Cartron, Jean-Luc E.; Stoleson, Pamela L. L.; Haussamen, Walter C.; Crane, Tiffany E. 2005. Assessment of native species and ungulate grazing in the Southwest: terrestrial wildlife. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-142. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 74 p. [+ CD]. [60764]

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Role of the Smithsonian in the Black-footed Ferret Recovery Program

In 1980 the black-footed ferret, Mustela nigripes, was feared extinct when an isolated remnant population was discovered Meeteese, Wyoming. In 1985 through 1987 the last 18 known individuals were captured and transported to a Wyoming Fish and Game facility for captive breeding. Only seven individuals successfully bred, from whom all living members of the species have descended. In 1988 the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park became the first zoo to participate in the program when seven of the founders’ direct descendants were transferred to the Conservation Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia. In the mid-1980’s NZP researchers developed artificial insemination techniques on domestic ferrets and the Siberian polecat for use on black-footed ferrets. Techniques developed include evaluation of male testes and sperm, electroejaculation, cryopreservation of sperm and artificial insemination. From 1989 to 2009 566 ferrets were born at the CRC, 143 by artificial insemination. AI helped to insure against loss of the genetic diversity present in the founders. Positive results demonstrate that reproductive techniques are valuable for generating new knowledge of relevance to natural and assisted breeding and producing genetically valuable offspring useful for breeding stock and/or reintroduction (Hoard et al, 2002).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© Ososky, John

Source: EOL Rapid Response Team

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Conservation

The black-footed ferret was thought to be extinct in the 1970s until a last population was discovered in Meeteetse, Wyoming in 1981 (5). Under initial protection measures, this population increased in numbers but then became infected by canine distemper and plague, which threatened to completely wipe out the species (5). As a last resort, the final 18 wild animals were caught and brought into captivity between 1985 and 1987, and a successful captive-breeding programme has been running ever since (3) (8). The US Fish and Wildlife Service's revised 'Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Plan' of 1988 prescribed the long-term target of establishing ten or more separate, self-sustaining wild populations, aiming to have 1,500 ferrets in the wild by 2010 (9). As of 2008, populations had been reintroduced to 18 sites, and with up to 250 wild born individuals distributed amongst several of these populations, the black-footed ferret was reclassified by the IUCN, moving from Extinct in the Wild to Endangered (1). While this is a fantastic conservation success story, wild ferret populations remain small (1), and conservation will need to continue if this species' future is to be secured.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Black-footed ferrets are often seen as pests by ranchers. The tunnel systems that are used by ferrets and prairie dogs cause holes in the the earth in the grazing lands of cattle. Unfortunate livestock sometimes step into these holes and become lame, after which they must be destroyed.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Black-footed ferrets help control populations of prairie dogs, which are sometimes seen as pests because of their burrowing activities and because they as as reservoirs for zoonotic diseases such as bubonic plaque.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Wikipedia

Black-footed ferret

The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), also known as the American polecat[2] or prairie dog hunter,[3] is a species of mustelid native to central North America. It is listed as endangered by the IUCN, because of its very small and restricted populations. First discovered by Audubon and Bachman in 1851, the species declined throughout the 20th century, primarily as a result of decreases in prairie dog populations and sylvatic plague. It was declared extinct in 1979 until Lucille Hogg's dog brought a dead black-footed ferret to her door in Meeteetse, Wyoming in 1981.[4] That remnant population of a few dozen ferrets lasted there until the animals were considered extinct in the wild in 1987. However, a captive breeding program launched by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service resulted in its reintroduction into eight western states and Mexico from 1991–2008. There are now over 1,000 mature, wild-born individuals in the wild across 18 populations, with four self-sustaining populations in South Dakota (two), Arizona and Wyoming.[1][5]

The black-footed ferret is roughly the size of a mink, and differs from the European polecat by the greater contrast between its dark limbs and pale body and the shorter length of its black tail-tip. In contrast, differences between the black-footed ferret and the steppe polecat of Asia are slight, to the point where the two species were once thought to be conspecific.[6] The only noticeable differences between the black-footed ferret and the steppe polecat are the former's much shorter and coarser fur, larger ears, and longer postmolar extension of the palate.[7]

It is largely nocturnal and solitary, except when breeding or raising litters.[8][9] Up to 91% of its diet is composed of prairie dogs.[10][11]

Evolution[edit]

Like its close cousin, the Asian steppe polecat (with which it was once thought to be conspecific), the black-footed ferret represents a more progressive form than the European polecat in the direction of carnivory.[2] The black-footed ferret's most likely ancestor was Mustela stromeri (from which the European and steppe polecat are also derived), which originated in Europe during the Middle Pleistocene.[12] Molecular evidence indicates that the steppe polecat and black-footed ferret diverged from Mustela stromeri sometime between 500,000 and 2,000,000 years ago, perhaps in Beringia. The species appeared in the Great Basin and the Rockies by 750,000 years ago. The oldest recorded fossil find originates from Cathedral Cave, White Pine County, Nevada, and dates back to 750,000–950,000 years ago.[13] Prairie dog fossils have been found in six sites where ferrets are yielded, thus indicating that the association between the two species is an old one.[6] Anecdotal observations and 42% of examined fossil records indicated that any substantial colony of medium- to large-sized colonial ground squirrels, such as Richardson's ground squirrels, may provide a sufficient prey base and a source of burrows for black-footed ferrets. This suggests that the black-footed ferret and prairie dogs did not historically have an obligate predator-prey relationship.[13] The species has likely always been rare, and the modern black-footed ferret represents a relic population. The earliest reported occurrence of the species is from a late Illinoian deposit in Clay County, Nebraska, and is further recorded from Sangamonian deposits in Nebraska and Medicine Hat. Fossils have also been found in Alaska dating from the Pleistocene.[6][12]

Physical description[edit]

Skull, as illustrated in Merriam's Synopsis of the weasels of North America
Black-footed ferret at the Louisville Zoo

The black-footed ferret has a very long body and a blunt head. The forehead is arched and broad, and the muzzle is short. It has few whiskers, and its ears are triangular, short, erect and broad at the base. The neck is long and the legs short and stout. The toes are armed with sharp, very slightly arched claws. The feet on both surfaces are covered in hair, even to the soles, thus concealing the claws.[14] It combines several physical features common in both members of the subgenus Gale (least, short-tailed and long-tailed weasels) and Putorius (European and steppe polecats). Its skull resembles that of polecats in its size, massiveness and the development of its ridges and depressions, though it is distinguished by the extreme degree of constriction behind the orbits where the width of the cranium is much less than that of the muzzle. Though similar in size to polecats, its attenuate body, long neck, very short legs, slim tail, large orbicular ears and close-set pelage is much closer in conformation to weasels and stoats.[15] The dentition of the black-footed ferret closely resembles that of the European and steppe polecat, though the back lower molar is vestigial, with a hemispherical crown which is too small and weak to develop the little cusps which are more apparent in polecats.[15]

Males measure 500–533 millimetres (19.7–21.0 in) in body length and 114–127 millimetres (4.5–5.0 in) in tail length, thus constituting 22–25% of its body length. Females are typically 10% smaller than males.[6] It weighs 650–1,400 grams (1.43–3.09 lb).[16] Captive-bred ferrets used for the reintroduction projects were found to be smaller than their wild counterparts, though these animals rapidly attained historical body sizes once released.[17]

The base color is pale yellowish or buffy above and below. The top of the head and sometimes the neck is clouded by dark-tipped hairs. The face is crossed by a broad band of sooty black, which includes the eyes. The feet, lower parts of the legs, the tip of the tail and the preputial region are sooty-black. The area midway between the front and back legs is marked by a large patch of dark umber-brown, which fades into the buffy surrounding parts. A small spot occurs over each eye, with a narrow band behind the black mask. The sides of the head and the ears are dirty-white in color.[7]

Behavior and ecology[edit]

Territorial behavior[edit]

Black-footed ferret performing a weasel war dance

The black-footed ferret is solitary, except when breeding or raising litters.[8][9] It is nocturnal[8][18] and primarily hunts for sleeping prairie dogs in their burrows.[19] It is most active above ground from dusk to midnight and 4 a.m. to mid-morning.[11] Aboveground activity is greatest during late summer and early autumn when juveniles become independent.[11] Climate generally does not limit black-footed ferret activity,[9][11] but it may remain inactive inside burrows for up to 6 days at a time during winter.[20]

Female black-footed ferrets have smaller home ranges than males. Home ranges of males may sometimes include the home ranges of several females.[9] Adult females usually occupy the same territory every year. A female that was tracked from December to March occupied 39.5 acres (16 ha). Her territory was overlapped by a resident male that occupied 337.5 acres (137 ha) during the same period. The average density of black-footed ferrets near Meeteetse, Wyoming, is estimated at 1 black-footed ferret /99 to 148 acres (60 ha). As of 1985, 40 to 60 black-footed ferrets occupied a total of 6,178 to 7,413 acres (2,500 to 3,000 ha) of white-tailed prairie dog habitat.[8] From 1982 to 1984, the average year-round movement of 15 black-footed ferrets between white-tailed prairie dog colonies was 1.6 miles/night (2.5 km) (with a spread of 1.1 miles or 1.7 km). Movement of black-footed ferrets between prairie dog colonies is influenced by factors including breeding activity, season, sex, intraspecific territoriality, prey density, and expansion of home ranges with declining population density.[9][21] Movements of black-footed ferrets have been shown to increase during the breeding season; however, snow-tracking from December to March over a 4-year period near Meeteetse, Wyoming revealed that factors other than breeding were responsible for movement distances.[9]

Temperature is positively correlated with distance of black-footed ferret movement.[9] Snow-tracking from December to March over a 4-year period near Meeteetse, Wyoming, revealed that movement distances were shortest during winter and longest between February and April, when black-footed ferrets were breeding and white-tailed prairie dogs emerged from hibernation. Nightly movement distance of 170 black-footed ferrets averaged 0.87 miles (1.40 km) (range 0.001 to 6.91 miles (0.002–11.12 km)). Nightly activity areas of black-footed ferrets ranged from 1 to 337.5 acres (0 to 137 ha)), and were larger from February to March (110.2 acres (45 ha)) than from December to January (33.6 acres (14 ha)).[9] Adult females establish activity areas based on access to food for rearing young. Males establish activity areas to maximize access to females, resulting in larger activity areas than those of females.[9]

Prey density may account for movement distances. Black-footed ferrets may travel up to 11 miles (18 km) to seek prey, suggesting that they will interchange freely among white-tailed prairie dog colonies that are less than 11 miles (18 km) apart. In areas of high prey density, black-footed ferret movements were nonlinear in character, probably to avoid predators.[9] From December to March over a 4-year study period, black-footed ferrets investigated 68 white-tailed prairie dog holes per 1 mile (1.6 km) of travel/night. Distance traveled between white-tailed prairie dog burrows from December to March averaged 74.2 feet (22.6 m) over 149 track routes.[9]

Reproduction and development[edit]

Black-footed ferret kits

The reproductive physiology of the black-footed ferret is similar to that of the European polecat and the steppe polecat. It is probably polygynous, based on data collected from home range sizes, skewed sex ratios, and sexual dimorphism.[9][21] Mating occurs in February and March.[9][20] When a male and female in estrus encounter each other, the male sniffs the genital region of the female, but does not mount her until after a few hours have elapsed, which is contrast to the more violent behavior displayed by the male European polecat. During copulation, the male grasps the female by the nape of the neck, with the copulatory tie lasting from 1.5–3 hours.[6] Unlike other mustelids, the black-footed ferret is a habitat specialist with low reproductive rates.[21] In captivity, gestation of black-footed ferrets lasts 42–45 days. Litter size ranges from 1–5 kits.[18] Kits are born in May and June[22] in prairie dog burrows.[8] Kits are altricial and are raised by their mother for several months after birth. Kits first emerge above ground in July, at 6 weeks old.[11][21][22] They are then separated into individual prairie dog burrows around their mother's burrow.[11] Kits reach adult weight and become independent several months following birth, from late August to October.[11][21] Sexual maturity occurs at one year of age.[11]

Intercolony dispersal of juvenile black-footed ferrets occurs several months after birth, from early September to early November. Dispersal distances may be short or long. Near Meeteetse, Wyoming, 9 juvenile males and 3 juvenile females dispersed 1 to 4 miles (1–7 km) following litter breakup. Four juvenile females dispersed a short distance (<0.2 miles (0.3 km)) but remained on their natal area.[21]

Diet[edit]

Black-footed ferret chasing prairie dog.

Up to 91% of the black-footed ferret's diet is composed of prairie dogs.[10][11] The diet of the black-footed ferret varies depending on geographic location. In western Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana, black-footed ferrets historically associated with white-tailed prairie dogs and were forced to find alternate prey when white-tailed prairie dogs entered their four-month hibernation cycle.[18] In Wyoming, alternate prey items consumed during white-tailed prairie dog hibernation included voles (Microtus spp.) and mice (Peromyscus spp. and Mus spp.) found near streams. In South Dakota, black-footed ferrets associate with black-tailed prairie dogs. Because black-tailed prairie dogs do not hibernate, little seasonal change in black-footed ferret diet is necessary.[9][18]

In Mellette County, South Dakota, black-tailed prairie dog remains occurred in 91% of 82 black-footed ferret scats. Mouse remains occurred in 26% of scats. Mouse remains could not be identified to species; however, deer mice, northern grasshopper mice, and house mice were captured in snap-trap surveys. Potential prey items included thirteen-lined ground squirrels, plains pocket gophers, mountain cottontails, upland sandpipers, horned larks, and western meadowlarks.[11]

Based on 86 black-footed ferret scats found near Meeteetse, Wyoming, 87% of black-footed ferret diet was composed of white-tailed prairie dogs. Other food items included deer mice, sagebrush voles, meadow voles, mountain cottontails, and white-tailed jackrabbits. Water is obtained through consumption of prey.[8]

A study published in 1983 modeling metabolizable energy requirements estimated that one adult female black-footed ferret and her litter require approximately 474 to 1,421 black-tailed prairie dogs per year or 412 to 1,236 white-tailed prairie dogs per year for sustenance. They concluded that this dietary requirement would require protection of 91 to 235 acres (37–95 ha) of black-tailed prairie dog habitat or 413 to 877 acres (167–355 ha) of white-tailed prairie dog habitat for each female black-footed ferret with a litter.[23]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The historical range of the black-footed ferret was closely correlated with, but not restricted to, the range of prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.). Its range extended from southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan south to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.[6] As of 2007, the only known wild black-footed ferret population was located on approximately 6,000 acres (2,428 ha) in the western Big Horn Basin near Meeteetse, Wyoming.[8][9][10][20][21] Since 1990, black-footed ferrets have been reintroduced to the following sites: Shirley Basin, Wyoming; UL Bend National Wildlife Refuge and Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, Montana; Conata Basin/Badlands, Buffalo Gap National Grassland, and the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota; Aubrey Valley, Arizona; Wolf Creek, Colorado; Coyote Basin, straddling Colorado and Utah, and northern Chihuahua, Mexico.[22]

Historical habitats of the black-footed ferret included shortgrass prairie, mixed-grass prairie, desert grassland, shrub steppe, sagebrush steppe,[21] mountain grassland, and semi-arid grassland.[6] Black-footed ferrets use prairie dog burrows for raising young, avoiding predators, and thermal cover.[8][11] Six black-footed ferret nests found near Mellette County, South Dakota, were lined with buffalo grass, prairie threeawn, sixweeks grass, and cheatgrass. High densities of prairie dog burrows provide the greatest amount of cover for black-footed ferrets.[8][9] Black-tailed prairie dog colonies contain a greater burrow density per acre than white-tailed prairie dog colonies, and may be more suitable for the recovery of black-footed ferrets.[8] The type of prairie dog burrow may be important for occupancy by black-footed ferrets. Black-footed ferret litters near Meeteetse, Wyoming, were associated with mounded white-tailed prairie dog burrows, which are less common than non-mounded burrows. Mounded burrows contain multiple entrances and probably have a deep and extensive burrow system that protects kits.[8] However, black-footed ferrets used non-mounded prairie dog burrows (64%) more often than mounded burrows (30%) near Meeteetse, Wyoming.[9]

Mortality[edit]

Primary causes of mortality include habitat loss, human-introduced diseases, and indirect poisoning from prairie dog control.[11][18][20][22] Annual mortality of juvenile and adult black-footed ferrets over a 4-year period ranged from 59% to 83% (128 individuals) near Meeteetse, Wyoming.[21] During fall and winter, 50% to 70% of juveniles and older animals perish.[21] Average lifespan in the wild is probably only 1 year but may be up to 5 years. Males have higher rates of mortality than females because of longer dispersal distances when they are most vulnerable to predators.[21]

Given an obligate-dependence of black-footed ferrets on prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets are extremely vulnerable to prairie dog habitat loss. Habitat loss results from agriculture, livestock use, and other development.[22]

Black-footed ferrets are susceptible to numerous diseases. They are fatally susceptible to canine distemper (Morbillivirus),[6][21] introduced by striped skunks, common raccoons, red foxes, coyotes, and American badgers.[20] A short-term vaccine for canine distemper is available for captive black-footed ferrets, but no protection is available for young born in the wild. Other diseases that black-footed ferrets are susceptible to include rabies, tularemia, and human influenza. Sylvatic plague (Yersinia pestis) probably does not directly affect black-footed ferrets, but epidemics in prairie dog towns may completely destroy the black-footed ferrets' prey base.[21]

Predators of black-footed ferrets include golden eagles, great horned owls, coyotes, American badgers, bobcats, prairie falcons, ferruginous hawks, and prairie rattlesnakes.[11][20][21]

Oil and natural gas exploration and extraction can have detrimental impacts on prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets. Seismic activity collapses prairie dog burrows. Other problems include potential leakages and spills, increased roads and fences, increased vehicle traffic and human presence, and an increased number of raptor perching sites on power poles. Traps set for coyotes, American mink, and other animals may harm black-footed ferrets.[10]

History[edit]

Native American tribes, including the Crow, Blackfoot, Sioux, Cheyenne, and Pawnee, used black-footed ferrets for religious rites and for food.[18] The species was not encountered during the Lewis and Clark Expedition, nor was it seen by Nuttall or Townsend, and it was not until it was first described in Audubon and Bachman's Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America in 1851 that it became known to the scientific world.[24]

It is with great pleasure that we introduce this handsome new species ; ... [it] inhabits the wooded parts of the country to the Rocky Mountains, and perhaps is found beyond that range... When we consider the very rapid manner in which every expedition that has crossed the Rocky Mountains, has been pushed forward, we cannot wonder that many species have been entirely overlooked... The habits of this species resemble, as far as we have learned, those of [the European polecat]. It feeds on birds, small reptiles and animals, eggs, and various insects, and is a bold and cunning foe to the rabbits, hares, grouse, and other game of our western regions.

—Audubon and Bachman (1851)[24]

Decline[edit]

For a time, the black-footed ferret was harvested for the fur trade, with the American Fur Company having received 86 ferret skins from Pratt, Chouteau, and Company of St. Louis in the late 1830s. During the early years of predator control, black-footed ferret carcasses were likely discarded, as their fur was of low value. This likely continued after the passing of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, for fear of reprisals. The large drop in black-footed ferret numbers began during the 1800s through to the 1900s, as prairie dog numbers declined because of control programs and the conversion of prairies to croplands. Sylvatic plague, a disease caused by Yersinia pestis introduced into North America, also contributed to the prairie dog die-off, though ferret numbers declined proportionately more than their prey, thus indicating other factors may have been responsible. Plague was first detected in South Dakota in a coyote in 2004, and then in ~50,000 acres of prairie dogs on Pine Ridge Reservation in 2005. Thereafter 7,000 acres of prairie dog colonies were treated with insecticide (DeltaDust) and 1,000 acres of black-footed ferret habitat were prophylactically dusted in Conata Basin in 2006–2007. Nevertheless, plague was proven in ferrets in May 2008. Since then each year 12,000 acres of their Conata Basin habitat is dusted and about 50–150 ferrets are immunized with plague vaccine.[25] Inbreeding depression may have also contributed, as studies on black-footed ferrets from Meeteetse, Wyoming revealed low levels of genetic variation. Canine distemper devastated the Meeteetse ferret population in 1985. A live virus vaccine originally made for domestic ferrets killed large numbers of black-footed ferrets, thus indicating that the species is especially susceptible to distemper.[16]

Reintroduction and conservation[edit]

Ferret in the wild, July 2008

The black-footed ferret is an example of a species which benefits from strong reproductive science.[26] A captive-breeding program was initiated in 1987, capturing 18 living individuals and using artificial insemination. This is one of the first examples of assisted reproduction contributing to conservation of an endangered species in nature.[26] The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), state and tribal agencies, private landowners, conservation groups, and North American zoos, have actively reintroduced ferrets back into the wild since 1991. Beginning in Shirley Basin[27] in Eastern Wyoming, reintroduction expanded to Montana, 6 sites in South Dakota in 1994, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Saskatchewan, Canada and Chihuahua, Mexico. The Toronto Zoo has bred hundreds, most of which were released into the wild.[28] Several episodes of Zoo Diaries show aspects of the tightly controlled breeding. In May 2000, the Canadian Species at Risk Act listed the black-footed ferret as being an extirpated species in Canada.[29] A population of 34 animals was released into Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan on October 2, 2009,[30] and a litter of newborn kits was observed in July 2010.[31] Reintroduction sites have experienced multiple years of reproduction from released individuals.

The black-footed ferret was first listed as endangered in 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act, and was relisted on January 4, 1974, under the Endangered Species Act. In September 2006, South Dakota's ferret population was estimated to be around 420, with 250 (100 breeding adults consisting of 67 females and 33 males) in Eagle Butte, South Dakota which is 100,000 acres, less than 3 percent of the public grasslands in South Dakota, 70 miles East of Rapid City, South Dakota in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland bordering Badlands National Park, 130 ferrets northeast of Eagle Butte, SD on Cheyenne River Indian Reservation and about 40 ferrets on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.[32] Arizona's Aubrey Valley ferret population was well over 100 and a second reintroduction site with around 50 animals is used. An August 2007 report in the journal Science counted a population of 223 in one area of Wyoming (the original number of reintroduced ferrets, most of which died, was 228), and an annual growth rate of 35% from 2003–2006 was estimated.[33][34] This rate of recovery is much faster than for many endangered species, and the ferret seems to have prevailed over the previous problems of disease and prey shortage that hampered its improvement.[34] As of 2007, the total wild population of black-footed ferrets in the U.S. was well over 650 individuals, plus 250 in captivity. In 2008, the IUCN reclassified the species as "globally endangered", a substantial improvement since the 1996-assessment, when it was considered extinct in the wild, as the species was indeed only surviving in captivity.

As of 2013, about 1,200 ferrets are thought to live in the wild.[35]

Conservation efforts have been opposed by stock growers / ranchers, who have traditionally fought prairie dogs. In 2005, the U.S. Forest Service began poisoning prairie dogs in private land buffer zones of the Conata Basin of Buffalo Gap National Grassland, SD. Because 10–15 ranchers complained the measure was inadequate, the forest service advised by Mark Rey, then Undersecretary of Agriculture, expanded its "prairie-dog management" in September 2006 to all of South Dakota's Buffalo Gap and the Fort Pierre National Grassland, and also to the Oglala National Grassland in Nebraska, against opinions of biologists in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Following exposure by conservation groups including the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance and national media[36] public outcry and a lawsuit mobilized federal officials, and the poisoning plan was revoked.

The contradictory mandates of the two federal agencies involved, the USFWS and the U.S. Forest Service are exemplified in what the Rosebud Sioux tribe experienced: The ferret was reintroduced by the USFWS, which according to the tribe promised to pay more than $1 million a year through 2010. On the other hand the tribe was also contracted for the U.S. forest service prairie dog poisoning program. The increasing numbers of ferrets led to conflicts between the tribe's Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Game, Fish and Parks Department and the Tribal Land Enterprise Organization. When the federal government started an investigation of the tribe's prairie dog management program, threatening to prosecute tribal employees or agents carrying out the management plan in the ferret reintroduction area, the tribal council passed a resolution in 2008, asking the two federal agencies to remove ferrets, and reimburse the tribe for its expenses for the ferret recovery program.[37]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of Agriculture document "Mustela nigripes".

  1. ^ a b Belant, J., Gober, P. & Biggins, D. (2008). Mustela nigripes. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved March 21, 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of endangered.
  2. ^ a b Heptner, V. G. (Vladimir Georgievich); Nasimovich, A. A; Bannikov, Andrei Grigorevich; Hoffmann, Robert S. Mammals of the Soviet Union Volume: v. 2, pt. 1b (2001) Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian Institution Libraries and National Science Foundation
  3. ^ Coues 1877, p. 151
  4. ^ Black-footed Ferret Recovery Implementation Team. Blackfootedferret.org. Retrieved on March 22, 2013.
  5. ^ Russell McLendon (September 30, 2011). "Rare U.S. ferret marks 30-year comeback". Mother Nature Network. Retrieved October 9, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Hillman, Conrad N.; Clark, Tim W (1980). "Mustela nigripes". Mammalian Species 126 (126): 1–3. doi:10.2307/3503892. 
  7. ^ a b Merriam 1896, p. 8
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Houston, B. R.; Clark, Tim W.; Minta, S. C (1986). "Habitat suitability index model for the black-footed ferret: a method to locate transplant sites". Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs 8: 99–114. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Richardson, Louise; Clark, Tim W.; Forrest, Steven C.; Campbell, Thomas M (1987). "Winter ecology of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) at Meeteetse, Wyoming". The American Midland Naturalist 117 (2): 225–239. doi:10.2307/2425964. JSTOR 2425964. 
  10. ^ a b c d Clark, Tim W (1986). "Some guidelines for management of the black-footed ferret". Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs 8: 160–168. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Hillman, Conrad N. 1968. Life history and ecology of the black-footed ferret in the wild. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. Thesis
  12. ^ a b Kurtén 1980, pp. 152–153
  13. ^ a b Owen, Pamela R.; Bell, Christopher J. (2000). "Fossils, diet, and conservation of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes)". Journal of Mammalogy 81 (2): 422. doi:10.1644/1545-1542(2000)081<0422:FDACOB>2.0.CO;2. JSTOR 1383400. 
  14. ^ Audubon & Bachman 1851, p. 297
  15. ^ a b Coues 1877, pp. 147–148
  16. ^ a b Biggins, Dean E. and Max H. Schroeder. 1988. Historical and present status of the black-footed ferret. pp. 9397 in_ Eighth Great Plains Wildlife Damage Control Workshop, USDA Forest Service Gen. Tech. Rpt. RM-154, Rapid City, South Dakota
  17. ^ Wisely, Samantha M.; Santymire, Rachel M.; Livieri, Travis M.; Marinari, Paul E.; Kreeger, Julie S.; Wildt, David E.; Howard, Jogayle (2005). "Environment influences morphology and development for in situ and ex situ populations of the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes)". Animal Conservation 8 (3): 321–328. doi:10.1017/S1367943005002283. 
  18. ^ a b c d e f Clark, Tim W (1976). "The black-footed ferret". Oryx 13 (3): 275–280. doi:10.1017/S0030605300013727. 
  19. ^ "Black-Footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes)". National Parks Conservation Association. Retrieved June 14, 2010. 
  20. ^ a b c d e f Clark, Tim W (1987). "Restoring balance between the endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) and human use of the Great Plains and Intermountain West". Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 77 (4): 168–173. 
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Forrest, Steven C.; Biggins, Dean E.; Richardson, Louise; Clark, Tim W.; Campbell, Thomas M., III; Fagerstone, Kathleen A.; Thorne, E (1988). "Population attributes for the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) at Meeteetse, Wyoming, 1981–1985". Journal of Mammalogy 69 (2): 261–273. doi:10.2307/1381377. JSTOR 1381377. 
  22. ^ a b c d e U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1988. Species account: Black-footed ferret—Mustela nigripes, In: Endangered Species Program. Pierre, SD: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mountain-Prairie Region, South Dakota Ecological Services Field Office
  23. ^ Stromberg, Mark R.; Rayburn, R. Lee; Clark, Tim W (1983). "Black-footed ferret prey requirements: an energy balance estimate". Journal of Wildlife Management 47 (1): 67–73. doi:10.2307/3808053. JSTOR 3808053. 
  24. ^ a b Audubon & Bachman 1851, pp. 298–299
  25. ^ Livieri T.M. (April 28, 2013). Assessing the risk of plague to black-footed ferrets in Conata Basin, South Dakota. Final Report to South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks, 2012 Wildlife Diversity Grant.
  26. ^ a b Wildt, David; Wemmer, (July 1999). "Sex and wildlife: the role of reproductive science in conservation". Biodiversity and Conservation 8 (7). doi:10.1023/A:1008813532763. 
  27. ^ http://www.blackfootedferret.org/timeline
  28. ^ "Toronto Zoo > Conservation > Mammals". Retrieved September 22, 2009. 
  29. ^ "Species at Risk – Black-footed Ferret". Environment Canada. May 8, 2006. Retrieved August 16, 2007. 
  30. ^ "Black-footed ferret back on prairie turf". CBC News. October 2, 2009. Retrieved October 2, 2009. 
  31. ^ "Black-footed ferrets breeding in Sask.". CBC News. August 4, 2010. Retrieved August 5, 2010. 
  32. ^ Harlan, Bill (September 24, 2006) "South Dakota a ferret focal point". Rapid City Journal.
  33. ^ Fox, Maggie (August 9, 2007). "Once rare black-footed ferrets make comeback". Reuters. Retrieved October 2, 2009. 
  34. ^ a b Fountain, Henry (August 14, 2007). "Call It a Comeback: Ferret Population Shows Big Growth in Wyoming". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved October 2, 2009. 
  35. ^ Black footed Ferret in "Defenders", Fall 2013, page 22.
  36. ^ CNN Broken government series "Scorched Earth”. February 21, 2008
  37. ^ Rosebud tribe tells feds to remove ferrets. Aberdeen News, March 14, 2008

Bibliography[edit]

Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Source: Wikipedia

Unreviewed

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Some have suggested that M. nigripes may be conspecific with Old World M. eversmanii (see Wozencraft, in Wilson and Reeder 2005). However, the two have been been accepted as distinct species by all major North American sources for many years.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

The currently accepted scientific name for the black-footed ferret is Mustela nigripes
Audubon and Bachman [2,32,77].
  • 2. Baker, Robert J.; Bradley, Lisa C.; Bradley, Robert D.; Dragoo, Jerry W.; Engstrom, Mark D.; Hoffmann, Robert S.; Jones, Cheri A.; Reid, Fiona; Rice, Dale W.; Jones, Clyde. 2003. Revised checklist of North American mammals north of Mexico, 2003. Occasional Papers No. 229. Lubbock, TX: Museum of Texas Tech University. 23 p. [50946]
  • 32. Hall, E. Raymond. 1981. Mustela nigripes (Audubon and Bachman): Black-footed ferret. In: The mammals of North America. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. New York: John Wiley & Sons: 999-1000. [54714]
  • 77. Wilson, Don E.; Reeder, DeeAnn M., eds. 2005. Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. 3rd ed. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press. 2142 p. [60623]

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Common Names

black-footed ferret

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Disclaimer

EOL content is automatically assembled from many different content providers. As a result, from time to time you may find pages on EOL that are confusing.

To request an improvement, please leave a comment on the page. Thank you!