The Ferret Kits Receive Their Names

This update was written by Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute biologist Adrienne Crosier.
A keeper wearing a blue apron and blue, latex gloves holds three black-footed ferret kits in their hands. You cannot see the keepers' face. The kits eyes are not fully open yet, one has one eye open.
Potpie’s three kits received their names on July 26! From left to right, meet Aster, Aspen and Swifty.

Say hello to Aster, Swifty and Aspen! Potpie’s kits have names – thanks to your votes!

As mentioned in our first update, black-footed ferret kits have very thin and fast-growing fur. Therefore, instead of identifying them with shave marks like we do with cheetah cubs, we give each kit a microchip when they turn two months old. Potpie’s kits had their two-month exam on July 20 and received their microchips at that time.

While all black-footed ferrets look very similar, they each develop their own personality. Potpie’s kits have just started to develop theirs. It’s great timing for us to give them names, right as we are getting to know them as individuals!

A black-footed ferret kit looks out an opening of it's plastic, pet carrier.
Since black-footed ferrets are part of a release program, keepers do not build relationships or husbandry train with them. 

Aster seems to be the quietest of the three, but is curious and loves to play with her brothers. She is named after a purple flower native to the American prairie. Our male kit, Swifty was named by Smithsonian National Zoo Members and is very feisty and vocal. His name is in honor of the swift fox. Quite the opposite, Aspen — named by Zoo Guardians players — is much more relaxed and tends to stick close to Potpie most of the time. His name is short for the “quaking aspen,” which is another native tree to the American prairie.

In addition to getting their microchips, the kits’ two-month exam included their canine distemper vaccines, blood collection and a weighing. Swifty weighed 666 grams and Aspen weighed 645 grams, putting both just under a pound and a half. Aster tipped the scale at 604 grams. All three kits are doing well and appear healthy.

Normally by this stage, keepers would start building relationships and husbandry training with most animals in our care. For example, we train our cheetah cubs to climb onto a scale and stand still for us to do body checks. But, since these black-footed ferrets could be released into the wild, we want them to have as little contact with humans as possible. Black-footed ferrets are also susceptible to many diseases humans and household pets carry, including COVID-19. All our keepers wear protective gear, like masks and gloves, when handling the ferrets.

Earlier in July, keepers provided the ferret family with a new type of enrichment: a bag filled with shredded paper.

As mentioned in our last update, Potpie and the kits now get live rats to hunt and eat. Aster, Swifty and Aspen appear super interested in the live rats, but they still haven’t started attempting to hunt them by themselves yet. After Potpie performs the initial bite, she brings it back to the den box and the kits go after it then. Our webcam viewers may catch this predator-prey interaction on the Den Cam.

Webcam viewers may also catch our kits playing with some enrichment. Earlier this month, keepers provided a bag filled with shredded paper for the family. Since this was the kits’ first time, they were a little hesitant to interact with it. The kits touched it curiously, but then they would move away or make a startled noise immediately after. Eventually Potpie investigated and the kits saw it was safe. The kits have played with it ever since!

Watch Aspen, Aster and Swifty on the Black-footed Ferret Webcam and catch up on the previous black-footed ferret updates!