The black footed ferret is a carnivore. An endangered species, a member of the weasel family, and native to North America, black footed ferrets are a different species than the ferrets sold in pet stores, which evolved in Europe.
Black footed ferrets are predators and prairie dogs are an integral part of their survival. Prairie dogs make up 90 percent of their diet. Abandoned prairie dog burrows are used as shelter and places to raise their young. As prairie land has been plowed to make farmland and farmers have poisoned prairie dogs, black footed ferrets have declined almost to the point of extinction.
Black footed ferrets are opportunistic carnivores. They supplement their diets with rabbits, rats, birds, mice, ground squirrels, reptiles and insects.
Black footed ferrets also eat carrion and will stash prairie dogs for later, remember where they have left them and return to consume what is left.
How Much Do They Eat?
Although there are differences according to the time of year, as well as individual variations, black footed ferrets generally have very high metabolisms. They eat a lot of food compared to their own body weight. In captivity, a black footed ferret would consume one prairie dog every three or four days.
New research suggests that the prey-predator relationship between black footed ferrets and prairie dogs may not always have been so, but rather might have developed as a secondary result of ferrets using prairie dog burrows as their own habitat. This research is based on fossil remains from between 750,000 and 850,000 years ago. In only about 41 percent of cases were prairie dog fossil remains found among ferret fossils. Further studies seem to show that young ferrets only prefer prairie dogs if they have already been accustomed to them as a substantial part of their diet. The importance of this research may prove conservation efforts that rely too heavily on the interdependence of the two species might be too restrictive.