Journal of Ethology

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 29–41 | Cite as

Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) behavioral development: aboveground activity and juvenile play

  • Astrid Vargas
  • Stanley H. Anderson


We studied the behavioral development of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) from 6 to 16 post-natal weeks. At 6 weeks of age, kits are still lactating and depend on their mother for survival, while at 16 weeks, ferret young start achieving independence from their mother and littermates. Behavioral observations were obtained by placing videomonitors in the litters’ cages, nest boxes and in outdoor naturalistic enclosures. Captive-raised black-footed ferrets displayed nocturnal activity patterns, although they tended to appear aboveground at certain daytime hours presumably influenced by the established feeding and cleaning regimes. Growing ferrets began emerging aboveground at approximately 7 post-natal weeks and diel activity steadily increased as kits matured. The most manifest behavioral changes (appearance of new motor patterns, increase in aboveground play and in neck-biting behaviors) occurred from post-natal week 8 to week 12. This coincides with the period of maximum growth for ferrets and with a sensitive phase for the development of food preferences in this species. Changes from the 12 to the 16 post-natal weeks involved an increase in aboveground activity, including a higher frequency of scent-marking behaviors. Information provided in this study has important implications for enhancing the captive management of this endangered carnivore.


Play Behavior Social Play Bout Length Outdoor Enclosure Object Play 
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Copyright information

© Japan Ethological Society and Springer 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Astrid Vargas
    • 1
  • Stanley H. Anderson
    • 2
  1. 1.National Black-footed Ferret Conservation CenterUSFWSLaramie
  2. 2.Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Zoology and PhysiologyUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA

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