Today’s ferrets are the domesticated form of the European polecat. There is only one species of polecat that is native to America, which is the American Polecat, also known as the Black-Footed Ferret. These wild ferrets have thrived throughout history on Prairie Dogs and they are ancient natural enemies. Today, black-ferret ferrets are very rare but they still base their diet around Prairie Dogs.
In this article, we’ll talk about the history between Black-Footed Ferrets and Prairie Dogs in the wilderness.
Do Ferrets Eat Prairie Dogs In The Wild?
Prairie Dogs are from the genus Cynomys and are burrowing rodents. They thrive in America and there are five species in total. The Black-Tailed, White-Tailed, Utah, Mexican, and Gunnison’s Prairie Dogs. They live in different areas across North America and Northern Mexico and are extremely important to the ecosystem they live in.
These animals also make around 90% of a Black-Footed Ferret’s diet. These ferrets are only found in America and they were thought to be extinct in 1979 but made a grand return in recent years. This is all thanks to the hard work put in by various preserving organizations. And when it comes to introducing the new ferrets to the wilderness, prairie dogs need to thrive as well as they are the main food source.
It is estimated that an American Polecat eats over 100 prairie dogs in a year, and it can take more than 250 prairie dogs to support a whole business (a group of ferrets is called a “business”) each year. Prairie dogs being rarer and rarer because of humans that keep taking their habitat can be a very big problem for many species of predators. This includes foxes, hawks, coyotes, etc. Disease is another reason why their numbers declined so badly in the last years.
Besides using them as their main food source, the Black-Footed Ferrets also use the burrows made by the prairie dogs as their new homes. This is because ferrets always live in burrows as they feel the safest there to nap most of the day. However, ferrets don’t actually make their own burrows. They just use abandoned burrows or kill the current occupants.
Ferrets spend most of their time hunting and stashing extra food in their burrows. They also use burrows to escape from bigger predators and harsh weather conditions.
What Else Does a Black-Footed Ferret Eat?
The diet of a black-footed ferret depends a lot on where it lives. If it lives in western Colorado, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming, they are well-known to use white-tailed prairie dogs as their main food source. However, they also need to find an alternative during their four-month hibernation cycle. Other prey includes mice, voles, and other similar creatures found near streams.
If the ferrets live in South Dakota, then they eat black-tailed prairie dogs which do not hibernate. This means that they won’t have to bother too much with finding alternative prey from time to time. Researches have found black-tailed prairie dog remains in 91% of the studied black-footed ferret scats. Other remains came mostly from deer mice, northern grasshopper mice, and house mice.
Black-footed ferrets can also hunt horned larks, western meadowlarks, mountain cottontails, plains pocket gophers, upland sandpipers, thirteen-lined ground squirrels, white-tailed jackrabbits, meadow voles, etc. Most of the time, water is obtained through consuming these animals. It’s not uncommon for a ferret to kill prey just to drink its blood.
One thing that’s common among ferrets all over the world is their incredible skills in hunting birds. They have an excellent smell and can sneak up on a bird before it even realizes what is happening. This is sadly why some ferrets that escaped in the wild (either from a fur farm or released by mindless activists) are seen as vermin that need to be exterminated. Some countries highly encourage ferret hunting.
Due to how fast they reproduce, how good they are at hunting, and how often they need to eat, ferrets can cause serious problems if they are introduced to the wrong ecosystem. They often drive birds on the brick of extinction.
Will a Domestic Ferret Eat Prairie Dogs?
Ferrets are strictly carnivorous creatures. This means that they pretty much accept any type of meat. A domestic ferret won’t have a problem attacking and eating a prairie dog. They are their natural enemies and even the cutest ferret prefers live prey to kibble. This can turn into a nightmare if you have a prairie dog as a pet.
If the ferret knows there’s prey around, it will take a very long time for it to get used to the fact that it won’t get to see it, nor eat it. They might get more and more frustrated and aggressive as they know you’re the ones stopping them from getting to their meal.
Keeping a prairie dog while you have a ferret can be very stressful for the poor rodent as well. They’ll live in constant fear and won’t even be able to eat or sleep properly because of feeling threatened. It’s not a good idea to keep both types of animals, in the same house, as a pet. They will most likely fight to the death.
If you’re trying to keep your ferret on a whole prey diet and you’re looking for different ideas, prairie dogs are accepted but they might be too big. Ferrets store the rest of the ferret for later. But if your ferret does that inside your home, the terrible smell will cause some serious problems. Always check your ferret’s stash to make sure nothing raw is there, ready to rot. Old raw food can get the ferret very sick as well.
Feeding your ferret animal parts to ensure it gets the nutrients it needs is excellent. But it’s best if the animal is dead from the get-go as that will eliminate the risk of the ferret getting hurt while trying to hunt it around the cage.