Winters in Montana aren’t for the faint of heart. With temperatures 20 or more degrees below freezing and breakneck fast winds, it is truly a frozen wonderland. Montana even holds the coldest temperature in national history with a -70 degree temperature recorded near Mt Helena. As a fan of the summer warmth, I know I would need lots and lots of sweaters and jackets if I were to go there. However, I know a furry friend who doesn't need any of that to make this wintery snowscape his home.

The black footed ferret, like other ferrets, are small furry creatures with a long “pear shaped” body with stout legs and a cone shaped nose. Like the name suggests, their short legs are black, giving the illusion of them wearing small boots. They also wear the illusion of a black mask like racoons and a small button nose of the same color. Their tail also is black-tipped as if they got some paint on the end of it. They are about the same size as a mink, about 1.5-2 feet, with a 6 inch long tail.

These furry critters stave off the winter cold underneath the ground. Their front legs sport a sizable set of claws that are optimized for digging and a strong nose to make up for the loss in sight. Their large ears also suggest a very good sense of hearing. During winter and in summer, they spend most of their time in gopher burrows, eating a gopher every 2-3 days. It is to note, however, that their movements are more limited during winter as they conserve their energy. They might spend up to a week in a burrow at a time during the winter.

These resilient creatures have also come back from extinction. Ever since the introduction of non-native diseases in their population and their prey, compounded with habitat loss, they have been pushed back so much that they were once labeled globally extinct. However, throughout the last 30 years, with the combined efforts of federal agencies, zoos, Native American tribes, conservation organizations and private landowners, these tiny friends have made a comeback. The ferret population was estimated to be 300 in North America currently. While there is a way to go for this now critically endangered species, this is what can happen when people work together to help these animals thrive once again.

Daniel, February 2022 

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