SCIENTIFIC NAME: Mustela nigripes
HABITAT: Prairie grasslands
LIFE HISTORY: Mostly nocturnal. Majority of time spent underground. Live among primary prey, prairie dogs. Very playful, especially as juveniles.
THREATS: Habitat loss and destruction of prey caused by humans
FORMER RANGE: Great Plains, from eastern Montana/western North Dakota down through northern Texas
CURRENT POPULATION: 1,000-1,500, most in captive breeding programs
The slender black-footed ferret is about the same size, or even smaller, than the prairie dog—yet prairie dogs form 90 percent of the ferret's diet. Ferrets eat one prairie dog every three to four days, and spend most of their time in prairie dog burrows, where they sleep, store food, hide from predators and bear their young.
Considering their close relationship, it's not surprising that prairie dog eradication programs nearly eradicated the black-footed ferret as well. In the 1980s, the last known black-footed ferret population, in Wyoming, was nearly wiped out by disease.
Captive breeding programs have reintroduced the ferret to several Western states, but habitat loss and the continued decline of the prairie dog keep the ferret on the endangered species list.
Photos: Yellowstone National Park © J. Schmidt, National Park Service; black footed ferret © Tami S. Black, USFWS; gray wolf © Gary Kramer, USFWS; grizzly bear © National Park Service