Join us this week as we explore prairie dog ecology and conservation with Patrick McMillan, Clemson University naturalist. Patrick is the host of an educational TV program on wildlife and botany called “Expeditions.”
As discussed in yesterday’s post, prairie dogs are a keystone species that provides food for many other animals. Black-footed ferrets, one of the rarest carnivores in North America, are particularly dependent on prairie dog colonies. Scientists estimate that a ferret population requires 10,000 to 20,000 acres of prairie dog colonies to sustain itself.
Ferrets eat prairie dogs—each ferret consuming 100 or more each year—and raise their young in prairie dog burrows. Ferret babies, called kits, are born blind and spend the first two months of life being closely guarded below ground. In fact, ferrets spend about 90 percent of their time underground, usually emerging only at night to hunt for food.
It’s rare to see a ferret in the wild, and rarer still to see one during the day. But this clip captures one of the rarest moments of all. In this role reversal, a prairie dog fends off a ferret attack in broad daylight, chasing the ferret from burrow to burrow and exhibiting some abnormally aggressive behavior. The hunter becomes the hunted—yet another one of nature’s wonderful mysteries…this time caught on film!