Since the end of the last century, the American ferret population has been restored by artificial breeding. Today, with varying success, animals are trying to assimilate into their habitat.
American ferret: description
The American (black-footed) ferret is a small predator of the marten family. The habitat of this mammal is located in North America. The closest relative is the steppe polecat. In the 30s of the last century, the animal completely disappeared (was destroyed) in Canada. In the 60s, it was listed in the Red Book in the United States as a species on the verge of extinction.
The length of the black-footed ferret (including the 15-centimeter fluffy tail) is 45 cm. The animal, whose name in Latin sounds like Mustela nigripes, has a mass of 650-1400 g. The animal, like most representatives of the marten family, stands out with its characteristic squat elongated body and very short paws.
The fur coat of the body of the ferret at the base is almost white and darker at the ends of the hairline. In general, the main color of the animal has a tan. On the legs and end of the tail, black wool predominates. The black cover on the face of the animal forms a characteristic mask. The common color scheme helps these predators to be invisible in their habitat.
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Nature and behavior
The American polecat leads a predominantly nocturnal lifestyle, leaving the hole to hunt at dusk. In winter, the animal is much less active, but does not hibernate, although it may not go out of its home for several days. Mustela nigripes are burrowing animals using underground communications of meadow dogs for their own purposes.
The black-footed ferret leads a solitary lifestyle, without creating communities. The exception is the breeding season. However, the male does not take any part in raising offspring.
American ferret is a territorial creature that actively protects its possessions from other individuals. Especially animals do not tolerate competitors of the same gender.
These animals are vigilant, mobile and very curious. American ferrets have excellent sense of smell, good eyesight and excellent hearing. Animals actively use olfactory communications. They mark the territory to indicate their possessions or to find the return path to the hole during night trips.
Mustela nigripes are secretive but noisy creatures that make sounds resembling twittering. American ferrets hiss during danger or attack.
According to various sources, the lifespan of black-footed ferrets in nature is from 3 to 5 years. Occasionally, individuals survive to 7-8 years. In captivity, animals live 8-9, and some centenarians live up to 10-11 years.
Habitat and habitat
The Black-footed Polecat was previously found in many areas of North America, including the southern territories of Canada and northern Mexico. Today, animals live in the north and east of Montana, in the western part of South Dakota, as well as in southeastern Wyoming.
Many populations in these places were artificially restored after almost complete extermination of animals. Mustela nigripes are also found in North American zoo centers and research facilities where their stock is being restored.
The black-footed ferret in nature prefers steppe and hilly areas. Occupying the homes of meadow dogs, predators are actively using the complex underground infrastructure of burrows, hunting and hiding from danger. A single individual can occupy from 30 to 50 hectares of space. Here the animal hunts and breeds. The female with the cubs occupies an even larger territory - 50-60 ha. Sometimes ferret areas overlap.
The habits and lifestyle of the black-footed ferret are not much different from the habits and behavior of his European counterpart. Like other representatives of the vast family of marten, the animal leads mainly a nocturnal lifestyle, becoming more active with the onset of the dark.
The animal has a wonderful sense of smell and hears perfectly, this allows him to hunt without difficulty at night. Possessing incredible flexibility and modest dimensions, the hunter easily climbs into the victim’s home, where he deals with it. Very often, the ferret remains in a freed hole, using the latter as a temporary or permanent shelter.
The American polecat directly depends on meadow dogs, as it feeds mainly on these squirrel rodents. Black-footed ferrets spend the vast majority of their lives nearby or directly in their colonies.
The flexible body structure of the ferret allows him to freely penetrate and move along the moves dug by a meadow dog. Thanks to this, the hunter has an advantage over the prey, but at the same time prefers to attack when the mammals sleep about the same size.
Male black-footed ferrets are more active than females, but in both of them the craving for hunting decreases with the onset of the cold season. During this period, animals economically consume previously stored food and go for prey only in the most extreme case.
On the surface of the earth, the American ferret usually moves in races or gallop at an average speed of 7-12 km / h. A predator is able to cover a distance of up to 10 km during the night, while simultaneously examining up to a hundred holes of meadow dogs. Hunting males can walk twice as much as females.
American ferrets do not have the habit of flocking and live most of their lives in splendid isolation. Accordingly, they do not have any hierarchical relationships. The exception is only the breeding season.
American Polecat usually hunts meadow dogs. Less commonly, a predator eats mice, large insects, small birds, ground squirrels, and other small creatures. For normal life, the black-footed ferret needs from 50 to 70 g of meat per day. A feature of this subspecies is that it never uses hiding places to store prey.
How to feed a ferret at home is described here .
Puberty in females of the black-footed ferret occurs a year after birth. Males later. American ferrets breed in the period from March to April inclusive.
Unlike the European counterpart, the male black-footed ferret during estrus of the female does not immediately begin to act actively. He waits for several hours, after which mating occurs. The duration of the process can be 2-3 hours.
The gestation period of a female is 35-45 days. Usually a female brings in a litter from 2 to 5 puppies. One cub or more than five rarely appears.
Young replenishment leaves the hole on the 40th day after birth. In the summer, the young live with their mother, with the onset of autumn, the family is divided and a new generation begins its independent life.
Hunting and enemies
The main threat to the existence of the American ferret comes from people. It was poaching and human agricultural activity that at one time put these animals on the brink of almost complete extinction. Today, this threat has not decreased its relevance, although the animal is a protected species, and hunting is prohibited.
Reducing the habitat of the meadow dog, people indirectly affect the existence of the American ferret. In addition, diseases such as plague and poisoning are negatively reflected in the stock.
Due to stealth and dexterity, this subspecies does not have many natural enemies. These are mainly large predatory animals and birds.
Conservation and Protection
United States Federal Services is collaborating with private landowners to conserve the American ferret and its original areas of residence. The animals are bred at special bases and in zoo centers, then released into the natural environment. Restored habitats are concentrated in states such as Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado.
American ferret is a rather rare beast found only in the north of the USA. It is a protected animal listed in the Red Book. The number of these animals in the wild, according to various sources, ranges from 1.5 thousand individuals.