Do Black-Footed Ferrets Eat Prairie Dogs? [Why & How]

do Black-tailed ferrets eat prairie dogs

Black-footed ferrets, also known as prairie bandits due to the dark fur around their eyes, are a fascinating species that have been the subject of study and conservation efforts for decades. However, not many people know of these ferrets, and upon learning about them are fascinated by their unique diet. 

Black-Footed Ferrets eat prairie dogs almost exclusively. Only 10% of their diet is made up of other prey animals. Black-Footed Ferrets are the perfect prairie dog hunters and are perfectly adapted for this purpose. Black-Footed Ferrets would perish without prairie dogs.

Black-Footed Ferrets are the only ferret species native to North America. 

They were thought to be extinct for several years. This mustelid continues to pique the interest of conservationists and biologists and only becomes more interesting as it is studied. Let’s learn more about the Black-Footed Ferret and focus on its peculiar diet. 

Do Black-Footed Ferrets Eat Prairie Dogs?

Black-Footed Ferrets are an endangered species of North American Ferret that were once considered extinct but now exist in only very small numbers in the wild. 

These ferrets are the only species native to North America, and they have one stand-out characteristic that sets them apart from all other mustelids.

Black-Footed Ferrets eat prairie dogs. In fact, the Black-Footed Ferret eats almost nothing else except prairie dogs. 

This may come as a surprise, as these small mammals are often smaller overall than prairie dogs and do not seem very threatening. But these ferrets are exceptional hunters and are very effective at catching prairie dogs. 

Black-Footed Ferrets are solitary mustelids except during the mating season and do not require much food to sustain themselves. This means that they hunt on their own, and they only need to hunt enough prairie dogs for themselves. 

These ferrets will only hunt and eat one prairie dog every 7 – 10 days. They do not pose as significant a threat to the prairie dog population as other predators, such as canines, felines, or even raptors. 

However, the Black-Footed Ferret relies entirely upon the prairie dog for its survival, and without prairie dogs to eat, this animal would likely not survive. 

The decreased number of wild prairie dogs is a contributing cause of the low number of wild Black-Footed Ferrets. 

How Do Black-Footed Ferrets Hunt Prairie Dogs?

Of all the animals that hunt and eat prairie dogs, Black-Footed Ferrets are the most well-adapted for this purpose. Most other predators wait for prairie dogs to come out of their burrows in the day or dig them out of their burrows at night, but the Black-Footed Ferret has its own methods for hunting prairie dogs. 

The ferret’s body shape allows them to move quickly through prairie dog tunnels and burrows. They are equipped with powerful front paws and claws to help them dig through areas not already part of the burrow. 

These animals are entirely nocturnal, which gives them an advantage over the prairie dogs because they are diurnal and always return to their burrows at night to sleep. 

Black-Footed Ferrets will move into a prairie dog burrow and live within the tunnels while the prairie dogs are out during the day. 

When night falls, the prairie dogs are entirely unaware that there is a predator within their burrow, and the ferret can ambush them in their sleep. 

These ferrets have powerful jaws and sharp teeth, allowing them to kill prairie dogs easily. 

The ferret will eat the prairie dog over a few hours or days and will not need to hunt again for more than a week. Until that time, the ferret will continue to live in the prairie dog burrow and only move out when there is nothing left to eat or when it is time to mate. 

A single Black-Footed Ferret can hunt and eat more than 100 prairie dogs annually and can completely devour an entire colony of prairie dogs over that time. 

Why Do Black-Footed Ferrets Only Eat Prairie Dogs?

Black-Footed Ferrets’ diet primarily consists of prairie dogs and very little else. Why do these animals only eat prairie dogs?

It is unknown why black-footed ferrets eat mostly prairie dogs, but the answer likely lies in their past behavior.  

Before humans occupied as much land in North America as we do now, there was much more land available for prairie dogs to occupy. Prairie dogs once existed in vast numbers in North America and were a primary food source for several animals, not only the Black-Footed Ferret.

In fact, at one point, there were so many prairie dogs that they could sustain a population of more than 5 million Black-Footed Ferrets. 

This means that the Black-Footed Ferret evolved alongside the prairie dog, and there was once so much food available that it did not need to adapt to eat other prey items. There were more than enough prairie dogs to go around. 

When people began taking over more land, the number of prairie dogs dropped rapidly, and subsequently, the number of Black-Footed Ferrets. 

The ferrets had no time to adapt and slowly dwindled into near-extinction. 

For this reason, Black-Footed Ferrets still only primarily eat prairie dogs and rely on them as their primary food source.  

Do Black-Footed Ferrets Ever Eat Anything Other Than Prairie Dogs?

Black-Footed Ferrets eat prairie dogs almost exclusively. However, they are also known to eat other small rodents, especially during the winter when some species of prairie dogs hibernate. 

These ferrets eat mice, voles, and even jackrabbits when no prairie dogs are available. 

However, regardless of the season, Black-Footed Ferrets mostly eat prairie dogs and rely on them for survival. 

Final Word

Black-Footed Ferrets are powerful little mammals that are much stronger and more ruthless than they appear. These mustelids are capable hunters and have developed the perfect methods for hunting prairie dogs. 

The number of Black-Footed Ferrets in the wild is slowly increasing due to conservation efforts, but this animal is still highly endangered. 

Hopefully, Black-Footed Ferrets with make a comeback in the next few years and remain present for future generations to enjoy. 

Related Articles


Recent Posts