The American ferret, or the American black-footed ferret (Black-footed Ferret), is listed as an endangered species. Since 1980, a gradual recovery of the captive population has begun. Currently, under natural conditions, the animal can be found in North America.
Detailed description of the breed
The black-footed American ferret is a predatory member of the Weasel family. The animal has a small head, an elongated sinewy body with a long neck, a fluffy tail and small short legs. If you look closely at the photo of the black-footed ferret and marten, you will notice the external similarity of the animals.
The ferret's fur is smooth, light cream in color with a white undercoat. The ferret's face is decorated with a black mask. The feet and tip of the tail are also painted in contrasting black. Thanks to this color, the predator perfectly disguises itself in nature and hunts its prey without hindrance. And the ferret feeds on rodents, insects and small birds.
Males and females differ in size. The weight of an adult female is about 700 - 800 g, males weigh more - 1 - 1.2 kg.
Due to the valuable fur, the population of black-footed American ferrets was almost on the verge of extinction. However, thanks to the efforts of American scientists, the gap in the fauna was successfully filled. More than 600 individuals have returned to their natural habitats, but this is not enough, and the species is still on the pages of the Red Book.
These small animals travel great distances in search of prey, skillfully climb into the holes of rodents and rob the nests of small birds. The ferret's natural habitat is located throughout North America. Animals hunt both on flat lands and on mountain ranges.
Ferrets live in captivity for about 9 years. In nature, their life expectancy is much shorter - 3-4 years. A unique long-lived ferret has been recorded that has lived in the American Zoo for over 11 years.
In nature, the range of the American ferret is limited to the territory of North America. Animals that are raised in artificial conditions are released into their familiar environment: in the region of rocky mountains, plains and low mountains of Canada, USA and Greenland. There the Blackfoot Ferret lives, hunts and reproduces.
In search of prey, ferrets easily overcome any distances: their legs are adapted to conquer mountain heights, ridges, coastal plains and plateaus. There are cases when these amazing animals were found at an altitude of more than 3 thousand meters above sea level in the state of Colorado.
Habits and lifestyle
By nature, the American Ferret is a predator that only hunts at night. The animal calmly leads a nocturnal lifestyle, since nature has endowed it with an acute sense of smell, sensitive hearing and vision.
The petite body and natural flexibility allow the ferret to infiltrate unhindered into earthen burrows for hunting rodents.
Black-footed ferrets do not stray into groups and live alone. By temperament, the weasel family does not show aggression towards their relatives. At the onset of mating periods, the animals create pairs in order to reproduce offspring.
Why are black-footed ferrets disappearing?
The black-footed American ferret lives in the most dangerous ecosystem - the North American prairie. In the past, this vast area was formed from silt, sand and clay washed over millions of years from the Rocky Mountains. The Rocky Mountains created a dry climate in the area, blocking the air currents from the Pacific Ocean. Under these conditions, a rather scarce fauna was formed: mainly shrubs and low grass.
Despite the difficult conditions, representatives of the weasel family have perfectly adapted, bred and hunted their favorite delicacy - prairie dogs. However, with the beginning of the prosperity of the agro-industrial sector in the United States, the active development of fields and meadows for agricultural facilities began. Colonies of prairie dogs were practically exterminated by human hands. Many fields were plowed up, so ferrets could no longer hunt and died of hunger.
Having lost its main source of food, the ferret began to hunt farm rabbits, birds and chicken eggs. In response, American farmers began to trap, bait, and shoot the predator.
In addition to human impact, many black-footed ferrets died from the plague.
Thus, black-footed ferrets were on the verge of complete destruction, but humanity was able to stop the extermination of a unique species and replenish the number of individuals.
What does an American ferret eat?
The predator's diet is dominated by small animals:
- Insects (beetles, ants, crickets, dragonflies, etc.);
- Rodents (mice, ground squirrels, steppe dogs, etc.);
- Small birds and their eggs.
The diet of American ferrets is dominated by small rodents, especially prairie dogs. One animal eats up to 100 dogs a year. The viability of an endangered species directly depends on the rodent population.
For survival and food for males, 45 hectares of fields are enough, for a female with cubs much more - from 60 hectares or more. Often males and females overlap in the same habitat. In this case, the stronger sex wins in the non-competitive struggle, and females with offspring may die of hunger.
In winter, the ferret also visits farms, where he hunts small livestock: rabbits, quails, chickens, steals unhatched eggs, etc.
After reaching the age of 1 year, the black-footed ferret is considered an adult sexually mature individual, ready to mate. Throughout their lives, females produce offspring annually.
With the onset of spring, in a natural and artificially created environment, the female ferret actively and persistently pursues the male. American representatives of the weasel family are not distinguished by their loyalty and monogamy. Often, at the onset of the rut in 1 male, pairs are formed with several females.
Pregnancy in females lasts 1.5 months, and 5-6 ferrets appear in the offspring of the female American black-footed ferret. This is much less than that of gophers or marmots. After birth, the cubs are under the protection of the mother for about 1 - 1.5 months. All this time, the mother carefully takes care of her offspring and protects them from danger.
In the fall, the grown-up hooryats become independent. Having got out of the hole, they leave the family and begin their adult life.
The American ferret is a very hardy animal. In search of food, he is able to run more than 10 km per night. Despite its small size, the predator, in pursuit of the prey, develops a speed of more than 10 km / h. Moves mainly in jumps.
The animal, with a small body length of 50 cm, has an outstanding fluffy tail, which reaches a length of 15 - 20 cm.
An interesting fact that few people know about: American ferrets are very musical. When an animal is in a stressful situation (fear or fright), ferrets make loud sounds of different tonality. During the mating season, in addition to screaming, the animals hiss and make sounds similar to laughter.
The American ferret is a unique animal. Nature has endowed him with rich fur, recognizable color, thin wiry little body and great endurance. The dark paws and tip of the tail stand out in contrast against the background of the light skin.
The prairie dog is a favorite treat and staple food for black-footed ferrets. Often, the predator also attacks farm chickens, hares and rabbits. For this, at one time, American farmers announced a hunt for a predator: they set traps, shot and scattered the poison.
In addition to hunting animals, humans have made an irreparable contribution to the prairie dog population. Fields were plowed for planting vegetables, previously untouched lands were reclaimed, and many rodents were practically exterminated. Being on the verge of complete extinction, the species was still saved. Humanity has had such a strong influence on nature that this unique animal is present on the pages of the Red Book.