Home - Other Field Guides
 Kingdom - Animals - Animalia
Phylum - Vertebrates - Craniata
Class - Mammals - Mammalia
Order - Carnivores - Carnivora
Family - Weasels - Mustelidae
Species - Black-footed Ferret - Mustela nigripes
Black-footed Ferret - Mustela nigripes
Black-footed Ferret.Image Copyright and Usage Information Species of Concern
 Global Rank: G1
State Rank: S1
BLM: SPECIAL STATUS
FWP Conservation Tier: 1
 Black-footed Ferrets are weasel-like in body shape and form but are heavier than other weasels. The torso is long with short legs and a long tail. The color of the body is a soft cream color with the ears, chin and throat fading to white. The dorsal portion of the torso is darker than the rest of the body. The legs and tip of the tail are dark brown and a mask of the same color extends in a band from below each eye across the forehead.
Although similar in size and shape to the American Mink (Mustela vison), the much lighter body color and prairie habitat of the Black-footed Ferret are distinctive. Long-tailed Weasels (Mustela frenata) are smaller and less robust and do not have the distinctive black mask and feet of the ferret.
Western Hemisphere Range
Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 61
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
(Records associated with a range of dates are excluded from time charts)
 Black-footed Ferrets are not known to migrate. Juveniles disperse in September. Adults use about a 100-acre range semi-nomadically (Richardson 1986).
 Black-footed Ferrets are intimately tied to prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) throughout their range and have only been found in association with prairie dogs. They are therefore limited to the same open habitat used by prairie dogs: grasslands, steppe, and shrub steppe. Black-footed Ferrets do not dig their own burrows and rely on abandoned prairie dog burrows for shelter. Only large complexes (several thousand acres of closely spaced colonies) can support and sustain a breeding population of Black-footed Ferrets. It has been estimated that about 40 to 60 hectares of prairie dog colony is needed to support one Black-footed Ferret, and females with litters have never been found on colonies less than 49 hectares (Miller et al. 1996). Black-footed Ferrets scent-mark to maintain spatial separation (Richardson 1986).
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
Commonly Associated with these Ecological Systems
Great Plains Mixedgrass PrairieGreat Plains Sand PrairieShrubland, Steppe and Savanna Systems
Big Sagebrush SteppeMat Saltbush ShrublandSparse and Barren Systems
Great Plains Badlands
Occasionally Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Great Plains Ponderosa Pine Woodland and SavannaRocky Mountain Foothill Woodland-Steppe TransitionOpen Water / Wetland and Riparian Systems
 Prairie dogs are an important food source; one study found prairie dog remains in 91% of analyzed Black-footed Ferret scats (Hillman and Clark 1980). Alternate prey such as ground squirrels, rabbits, voles and mice are probably eaten opportunistically.
Black-footed Ferrets eat and defecate underground. They sometimes drag prey more than 1000 feet in winter. They travel an average of 1 mile per night. They do not adopt one "den burrow" and are semi-nomadic, traveling from burrow to burrow (Richardson 1986).
 No specific information on Black-footed Ferret reproductive biology is available for Montana, but in other portions of their range copulation occurred in March and early April. Gestation is 42 and 45 days (Foresman 2001). Wild-born litter sizes in South Dakota averaged 3.5 (range 1 to 5) (Hillman and Clark 1980), and 3.3 at emergence in Wyoming (Forrest et al. 1988). Young are born underground in prairie dog burrows. Young appear above ground usually in July and disperse in fall. At least some females reproduce as yearlings (Forrest et al. 1988).
Black-footed Ferrets have been extirpated from most of their 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 near Meeteetse, Wyoming by early 1987. See Miller et al. (1996) for more information on the discovery of the Meeteetse population and subsequent distemper-caused decline and captive breeding decisions that occurred in 1985. All known populations are a result of the reintroduction of captive bred Black-footed Ferrets from animals taken into captivity from this population. Reintroductions have occurred annually in Montana on federal and/or tribal land since 1994 with varying success. Predation by Coyotes and Badgers, and long distance dispersal have been the primary problems with the reintroduction efforts, but plague (Yersinia pestis) has also apparently resulted in deaths for released animals. Some wild reproduction has occurred but no self-sustaining populations have been established yet.
Additional ReferencesLegend: View WorldCat Record View Online Publication
Do you know of a citation we're missing?
Abstracts from Montana Rare Animal Meeting. 1992. [November 5-6, 1992]. Lewistown, MT. 20 pp.Biggins, D. and M.H. Schroeder. 1988. Historical and present status of the black-footed ferret. Pages 93-97 in G. L. Shenbeck and R. Lifkin, eds. Proc. eighth Great Plains wildlife damage control workshop. U.S. For. Serv. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-154.Cada, J.,T. Campbell, T. Clark, and D. Flath. 1984. The role of landowner cooperation in black-footed ferret recovery. Pp. 18-23 in A. Dood, comp., Agriculture and Wildlife. Proc. Mont. Chapt., The Wildl. Soc., Butte. 85 pp.Clark, T. W. 1989. Conservation biology of the black-footed ferret MUSTELA NIGRIPES. Wildlife Preservation Trust, Spec. Sci. Report No. 3. 175 pp.Clark, T. W., J. Grensten, M.Gorges, R. Crete, and J. Gill. 1987. Analysis of black-footed ferret translocation sites in Montana. The Prairie Naturalist 19(1):43-56.COSEWIC 2000. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the black-footed ferret Mustela nigripes in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. vi + 9 pp.COSEWIC. 1978. Saskatchewan Department of Tourism and Renewable Resources. COSEWIC status report on the black-footed ferret Mustela nigripes in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. 1-9 pp.Dood, A. R. 1986. Black-footed ferret (MUSTELA NIGRIPES) survey and inventory. Job Progress Report. Proj. No. SE-1 Job no. 3. MTDFW& P, Bozeman.Federal Register 1996. EPA: Federal Register: Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants Establishment. 20 March 1996. Federal Register, 1 October 1998. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: Establishment of a Nonessential Experimental Population of Black-footed Ferrets in Northwestern Colorado and Northeastern Utah. Federal Register, 11 September 2002. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: Proposed Establishment of a Nonessential Experimental Population of Black-footed Ferrets in South-central South Dakota. Federal Register, 13 October 2000. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Establishment of a Nonessential Experimental Population of Black-footed Ferrets in North-Central South Dakota. Federal Register, 29 April 1997. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: Proposed Establishment of a Nonessential Experimental Population of Black-footed Ferrets in Northwestern Colorado and Northeastern Utah. Flath, D. L. 1976. The black-footed ferret. Montana Outdoors 7:8-10.Flath, D. L., and T. W. Clark. 1989. America's most endangered mammal: the effort to save the black-footed ferret. Bison (Brookfield Zoo) 4: 18-23.Flath, D.L. 1978. Black-footed ferret inventory and management development plan for southeastern Montana. Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. 10 pp.Flath, Dennis and Tim Clark. 1986. Historic status of black-footed ferret habitat in Montana. Pages 63-71 in Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs: The Black-footed Ferret. Brigham Young University. 208 pp.Flath, Dennis L., 1979, Nongame species of special interest or concern: Mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes. January 1979.Foresman, K. R. 2001. The Wild Mammals of Montana. American Society of Mammologists, Special Publication No. 12: Lawrence, KS, 278 pp.Forrest, S. C., D. E. Biggins, L. Richardson, T. W. Clark, T. M. Campbell III, K. A. Fagerstone, and E. T. Thorne. 1988. Population attributes for the black-footed ferret (MUSTELA NIGRIPES) at Meeteetse, Wyoming, 1981-1985. Journal of Mammalogy 69:261-273.Godbey, J. and D. Biggins. 1994. Recovery of the Black-footed Ferret: Looking Back, Looking Forward. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin 19(1): 10, 13.GREENWALT, L. A., 1978, BLACK-FOOTED FERRET RECOVERY PLANHillman, C. N. and T. W. Clark. 1980. Mustela nigripes. American Society of Mammalogists, Lawrence, KS. Mammalian Species No. 126:1-3.Hoffmann, R. S. and D. L. Pattie. 1968. A guide to Montana mammals: identification, habitat, distribution, and abundance. Univ. Mont., Missoula. 133 pp.Hoffmann, R.S., P.L. Wright, and F.E. Newby. 1969. Distribution of some mammals in Montana. I. Mammals other than bats. J. Mammal. 50(3): 579-604.Jones, J. K. Jr., D. M. Armstrong, R. S. Hoffmann and C. Jones. 1983. Mammals of the northern Great Plains. Univ. Neb. Press, Lincoln. 379 pp.Linder, Rayond L., and Conrad N. Hillman, 1973, Proceedings of the Black-footed Ferret and Prairie Dog Workshop, September 4-6, 1973. Rapid City, South Dakota.Maguire, L. A., et al. 1988. Black-footed ferret recovery in Montana: a decision analysis. Wildlife Society Bull. 16:111-120.Martin, P. R. 1978. Black-footed ferret inventory and management development plan for southeastern Montana. Montana Dep. Fish and Game, Helena.Miller, B., R.P. Reading, and S. Forrest. 1996. Prairie Night. Smithsonian Institute Press. Washington D.C. 320 pp.Mont. Dept. of Agriculture., 1985, Controlling burrowing rodents with burrow fumigants. Inform. Bul. No. 6.Mont. Dept. of Agriculture., 1985?, Prairie dog control bulletin.Montana Prairie Dog Working Group. 2002. Conservation Plan for Black-tailed and White-tailed Prairie Dogs in Montana. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Helena MT. 51 pp.Oldemeyer, J.L., D.E. Biggins, B.J. Miller, and R. Crete, editors. 1993. Proc. of the symposium on the management of prairie dog complexes for the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret. U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv. Biol. Rep., No. 13. 96 pp.Owen, P. R., C. J. Bell, and E. M. Mead. 2000. Fossils, diet, and conservation of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes). Journal of Mammalogy 81:422-433.Plumb, G. E., B. Bessken, and P. Marinari. 1995. Reopening a niche at Badlands National Park: the black-footed ferret. Park Science 15(2):1, 16-18.Reading, R. P. and T. W. Clark. 1990. Black-footed ferret annotated bibliography, 1986-1990. Montana BLM Wildlife Technical Bulletin No. 3, Billings. 22 pp.Reading, R. P., and S. R. Kellert. 1993. Attitudes toward a proposed reintroduction of black-footed ferrets (MUSTELA NIGRIPES). Conservation Biology 7(3):569-Reid, F. 2006. Peterson Field Guide to Mammals of North America, 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston and New York, 608 pp.Rickart, E. A. 1987. SPERMOPHILUS TOWNSENDII. Mammalian Species 268:1-6.Thorne, E. T., and E. S. Williams. 1988. Disease and endangered species: the black-footed ferret as a recent example. Conservation Biology 2:66-74.U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service., 1984, Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, Montana: Draft Environmental Impact Statement.U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service., 1985, Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, Montana: Final Environmental Impact Statement.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1980. Management of Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Draft. REPRINT
Web Search Engines for Articles on "Black-footed Ferret"
Additional Sources of Information Related to "Mammals"
Bat Conservation International
Bats of Alberta
Mammal Species of the World
Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society
Natural Heritage Tracker (Statewide Database of Animal Observations)
North American Mammal Checklist
Species Accounts for Mammals of the World
The Wild Mammals of Montana by Kerry R. Foresman
USFWS White-Nose Syndrome in Bats
USGS White-Nose Syndrome in Bats
Western Bat Working Group
Name: Password: Send Cancel Animal SOC ReportPlant SOC ReportNH Map ViewerNH TrackerWetlands InformationStay Connected
Species of ConcernEndangered SpeciesLiving With WildlifeKids Guide
Want to put the field guide on your site?
Citation for data on this website:
Black-footed Ferret — Mustela nigripes. Montana Field Guide. Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Retrieved on April 30, 2012, from http://FieldGuide.mt.gov/detail_AMAJF02040.aspx