Ferret Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Kristina Washington-Morris

Kristina has taught a variety of elementary classes and has a master's degree in elementary education.

What kind of animal is smaller than a cat and as playful as a dog? A ferret fits this description. Learn about ferrets, including where they live, what they eat, and their life cycles.

What Is a Ferret?

Many people have a dog, cat, fish, or hamster for a pet. But there are some people that keep ferrets as pets. Even though these animals were originally wild, there are now also domesticated ferrets.

Ferrets are small animals that live in tunnels in the wild. Domesticated ferrets live in houses.
domesticated ferret

Both wild and domestic ferrets are small mammals that primarily eat meat. They have long bodies measuring 15 to 24 inches including their tails, and short legs. Ferrets only weigh one to five pounds, making them much lighter than most small dogs and cats. If you could line up four or five soda cans end to end, it would be about the same shape and size as a full grown ferret.

Even though wild and domestic ferrets are related, there are many differences. Let's look closely at the wild black-footed ferret and the domestic European ferret.

The Wild Black-Footed Ferret

The wild black-footed ferret is found in North America. It is the only ferret native to the United States. Black-footed ferrets all look the same - they have tan bodies and black feet, tails, and eyes. The markings on their faces make them look like masked bank robbers. They weigh about 1.5-2.5 pounds.

A black-footed ferret
Black-footed Ferret

Black-footed ferrets eat meat, and their main source of food is prairie dogs. Prairie dogs are ground squirrels that build massive underground tunnel colonies. Black-footed ferrets are solitary mammals and spend most of their lives alone. They are nocturnal (they hunt and are active mainly at night) and fossorial, meaning they live mostly underground. In fact, black-footed ferrets live in old prairie dog burrows. Their slender bodies make it easy for them to navigate these small spaces.

Wild black-footed ferrets only live three to four years in the wild. Babies, called kits, are born in the spring, usually in litters of around 3 to 4. Kits only stay with their mother and siblings until the fall when they are ready to go lead their solitary lives.

Black-footed ferrets have many predators, like birds of prey and coyotes. They are also dependent on large prairie dog populations to survive.

Black-footed ferrets have been on the endangered species list because the diminished prairie dog lands and predators have made it difficult for these ferrets to do well in nature.

The Domesticated Ferret

The domesticated ferret is native to Europe. They are tame and cared for by humans. Ferrets have been kept as pets in Europe for at least 2,500 years. They were originally domesticated to help kill rodents in homes and fields.

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