The black-footed ferret is one of three ferret species worldwide and the only ferret native to North America. It belongs to the mustelid family, which numbers sixty-four species worldwide and includes species such as weasels, badgers, skunks and sea otters. Black-footed ferrets were once found throughout North America’s Great Plains ecosystem, and in the mixed-grass prairie region of southern Saskatchewan and Alberta. Unfortunately, they were last seen on the Canadian prairies in the late 1930’s and were officially listed as Extirpated in Canada in 1978.
This grassland carnivore is a specialist predator which evolved in close association with black-tailed prairie dogs. They feed almost exclusively on prairie dogs and live amongst the colonies, using the abandoned burrows for shelter and rearing their young. Black-footed ferrets are nocturnal and will hunt for their prey at dusk and throughout the night.
Their coloring camouflages extremely well with the surrounding grasslands. They have a black zorro-like mask, black socks and a black-tipped tail. Their short smooth fur is beige on top, with a cream colored underside and a white face. Their body shape is long but compact with short legs. Males are slightly larger than females and are approximately 18 to 24 inches long, including a short (5 to 6 inch) tail, and weigh anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 pounds. Their sleek body design and powerful jaws allow them to easily slide into prairie dog burrows to snag their prey.