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Boys or Girls? Ferret Kits Receive First Exam

3-year-old black-footed ferret, Potpie, gave birth to her third litter of kits at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia, on May 19, 2021. Her three kits are already growing fast and received their first full exam on May 26. Read on to find out if the kits are boys or girls!

The start of whelping season is always exciting for us and we often find ourselves glued to our screens, just like you, watching the kits wiggle and grow on the Black-Footed Ferret Cam. Potpie seems to have her kits at the perfect time, with this year’s litter born just ahead of Endangered Species Day!

For the first few days after birth we allow mother and kits to bond without any interruptions from us. Potpie is an experienced mother and it was clear from day one she is devoted to caring for her kits.

Last week, when the kits turned one week old on May 26, we conducted their first health exam. The first exam is important because we get a closer look at each kit, which allows us to catch any potential health of veterinary issues. We also weigh the kits for the first time and determine their sexes!

A black and white image from the Black-Footed Ferret webcam of the three kits sleeping in a pile in the den.

Potpie's kits are two boys and a girl!

Potpie has two sons and a daughter! Unfortunately, there is no good way to tell the three apart just from looking at them on the cam. At this age, the kits’ fur is very thin and grows quickly. Therefore, identifying them with shave marks, like we do with cheetah cubs, is not an effective strategy.

Even though we cannot tell individuals apart, knowing each kits’ sex is essential for studbook planning. A studbook is a record of all the black-footed ferrets born and living in human care today. We use the studbook to help determine who should mate and which kits will be good candidates for the reintroduction program. While none of this is determined until August, knowing how many females and males we have is the first step.

Knowing an individual kits’ sex allows us to assess their growth better. Males tend to be larger and grow faster than their female siblings. 
A one week old black-footed ferret kit sits in a light green cup on a flat silver scale. The kit's weight shows 35.5 grams.

As part of the first exam, keepers weighed the kits. The males weighed between 33 and 35 grams, while the female weighed 29.5 grams!

The first weight is important for us to see if each kit is growing appropriately for their age. It’s also a starting point for future health checks and weigh ins! All three of Potpie’s kits are growing well and are on track for their age. The boys weighed between 33.5 and 35.3 grams, and the girl weighed 29.5 grams.

While all three kits appeared to be healthy during their exam, we noticed one of the boys had a swollen eye the following day. After retrieving him, the vets found he had an eye infection. We are treating him twice daily with antibiotics and eye drops and appears to be recovering well.

Every litter of black-footed ferret kits born at SCBI is an exciting success for this endangered species. We’re thrilled to be able to share Potpie and her three kits journey with you. Keep an eye on the Black-Footed Ferret Webcam in the coming weeks. You may start to see their distinctive “mask” facial markings and dark fur on their feet!

Can’t get enough of this ferret family? Be sure to stay tuned for more updates on the kits and follow the journey on the Zoo’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.