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Black-footed ferret

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Black-footed ferret
Blackfootedferret1.JPG
Scientific Classification
binomial name

Mustela nigripes

A Black-footed ferret kit
Black-footed-ferret.jpg

The Black Footed Ferret is a small North American member of the weasel family (Mustelidae). Its a veracious predator equipped with two large front paws are for digging, and an acute sense of smell and sight. It's markings and coloring help it blend in with it's surrounding habitat, the prairie and grasslands.[1]

The ferrets hunt prairie dogs in their burrows and then make their dens in the abandoned shelters. [2] In 1967, the Black-footed ferret was recognized by the U.S government as a threatened species. When the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was created in 1973, the ferret was finally listed as an endangered species. [3]

Anatomy

Description

The Black-footed ferret is a member of the Weasel family. The male ferrets are slightly larger than the females. It weighs about 1.5 to 2.5 pounds when it's full grown. [4] Their fur is white at the base and darker at the tips. This makes the ferret look a yellow-brown color. [5] It is lighter under its stomach and is almost white on its head, throat, and muzzle. Its two front paws are large and used for digging. The large ears and eyes help with its acute sense of smell and sight when digging in tunnels hunting for prey. Its markings and coloring help it blend in with it's surrounding habitat, prairie and grassland. The males are generally larger than the females. [6]

Reproduction

Black-footed ferrets are mainly solitary animals. The only time they are in groups is during mating season or when the females care for their kits. The males do not take part in caring for the kits, it is solely up to the female. Breeding activity normally occurs during March and April. The typical gestation period for the black-footed ferret is 41 to 43 days. The ferret gives birth to three to four kits, although litters of nine or ten kits has been recorded.

The kits are born helpless and blind, weighing only 5 to 9 grams at birth. When born, the ferrets are born covered in thin white hair. Its not until about three weeks after birth that they get their dark markings. The kits finally open their eyes at about 35 days after being born. Black Footed kits develop very rapidly after opening their eyes. The kits don't become sexually mature until around one year of age and their peak reproduction period is between three and four years.[7]

Ecology

Description

In the wild, ferrets live around three to four years and in captivity they live eight to nine. In the 1900's, widespread habitat destruction and diseases almost caused them to go extinct. By 1986, only 18 Black Footed-Ferrets remained . In 2008, there is approximately 750 Black-footed ferrets in the wild and 250 living in captivity. The ferrets could once be found in the Great Plains from Canada to Northern Mexico in Black-tailed Prairie Dog colonies and in the intermountain west in White-tailed and Gunnison's Prairie Dog colonies. Today, the ferrets have been reintroduced to fifteen locations in Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Kansas, and Chihuahua, Mexico.[8]

The Black-footed Ferret sometimes eats squirrels, mice, and other rodents. Their main food is prairie dogs, they make up 90 percent of their diet. The ferrets hunt the prairie dogs in their burrows and then make their dens in the abandoned shelters. [9] The prairie dog colonies have been reduced to only 5 percent of their previous population and habitat. This is due to destruction of habitat, poisoning, shooting, and the Sylvanic Plague.[10]

Endangered Status

Because of hunting and poisoning of the prairie dogs, and the Sylvanic Plague, Black-footed ferret population majorly declined. In 1967; the Black-footed ferret was recognized by the U.S government as a threatened species. When the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was created in 1973, the ferret was finally listed as an endangered species. By the time the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service had made a recovery plan for the ferret's protection in 1978, the population had declined to near extinction. They had modified the plan to emphasize captive breeding and reproduction.[11]

In 1991 Black-footed ferrets were beginning to be released in to the American West plains. Ferrets born at the National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center (CRC) have been released in Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, South Dakota, Montana, Mexico. There are many conservation projects in need of support. A few are:

  • Improving semen freezing methods and expanding the Genome Resource Bank to increase artificial insemination efficiency.
  • Understanding reproductive success in Black-footed ferrets in captivity and then released into nature. [12]

References