Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Morning ambush attacks by black-footed ferrets on emerging prairie dogs

January 1, 2010

Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) often hunt at night, attacking normally diurnal prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) in underground burrow systems. While monitoring black-footed ferrets in South Dakota during morning daylight hours, we observed an adult female ferret ambush a black-tailed prairie dog (C. ludovicianus) emerging from a burrow. On a neighboring colony, we observed a second adult female ferret engaging in similar ambush behaviors on 12 occasions, although prey was not visible. We retrospectively assessed radio-telemetry data on white-tailed prairie dogs (C. leucurus) and a male and a female ferret to evaluate ferret activity in relation to timing of prairie dog emergence. Activity of radio-collared ferrets was high during the hourly period when prairie dogs first emerged and the following 2 hr, relative to later daylight hours. Such behavior is consistent with behaviors observed in South Dakota. Nighttime movements by ferrets might involve hunting but also reconnaissance of prey preparatory to morning ambush attacks.