The family Mustelidae, also known as Mustelids, constitute the largest family of carnivores in terms of number of species.
With few exceptions, they also rank among the smallest family of carnivores in terms of size.
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North American Mustelids
Weasels and Minks (Mustela)
Types of Animals
Depending on the source consulted anywhere from fifty-five to sixty five mustelid species get divided into twenty-two genera. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) lists 59 species, one of which, the Sea Mink, is extinct.
Eleven mustelid species inhabit North America. The sea otter and black-footed ferret are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
The Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes), the largest of the North American weasel (Mustela) species, once inhabited the open spaces of the Midwest prairies and grasslands.
Consider their historical post-European settlement plight.
Farmers viewed them as pests because their habitat needs competed with the farmer's expanded crop land preferences.
Ranchers viewed them as pests because their burrowing activity created hazards for the rancher's free ranging cattle.
A substantial eradication program against prairie dogs, the ferret's food of choice, was initiated because the prairie dog was also viewed as an agriculture and ranch land pest.
Those facts, along with the ferret's susceptibility to canine distemper, moved the wild ferret population close to extinction.
In fact, they were so endangered that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed them as endangered before there was an Endangered Species Act.
The Black-footed Ferret Recovery Implementation Team reports on some good ferret news saying,
"Since 1991, federal and state agencies, in cooperation with private landowners, conservation groups, Native Americans, and the North American zoo community, have been actively reintroducing ferrets back into the wild from captive breeding facilities.
Beginning in Wyoming, reintroduction efforts have since expanded to sites in Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Kansas and Mexico."
While the Black-footed Ferret is still considered endangered, there is hope that future generations will have the opportunity to witness the animal in the wild and reinterpret its centuries long pest label.
Physically, most mustelids fit the typical weasel archetype. They are short, thin, fur bearing mammals, that upon viewing, seem to posses a strong curiosity for their surroundings.
Seventeen different Mustela species (ermines, ferrets, minks, and weasels) makes it the largest of the mustelid genera. Together the fourteen fresh water and salt water otter species account for approximately one quarter of all mustelids.
Mustelids often get mixed reviews from the human population. Otters often get credit for a cuteness factor. Badgers, weasels and polecats often serve as adjectives for unpleasant human characteristics. Historically, sable, ermine and mink represented a luxurious life.
The links in the box point to articles covering all of the native mustelids, along with a small sample of non-native mustelid species.