Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis


Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Adam Hartstone-Rose


The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), a North American mustelid species, was once found abundantly throughout the Midwest until extreme decline in prairie dogs, the black-footed ferrets primary food source, brought the species to near-extinction. This resulted in the development of the Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Program which included bringing the entire species into captivity with the intention of breeding the species back to sufficient numbers to allow for successful reintroduction. While in captivity, many components of the ferrets’ health were accounted for, but the current study aims to address the effects that captivity may have had on the cranial morphology of the black-footed ferrets, a factor that has not been widely regarded in the species. Specifically, that wild and captive ferrets are significantly different in terms of cranial morphology, and that a relatively recent change in the captive diet helped to return to alleviate the effects of captive. For this study, 23 cranial measurements were taken on 271 black-footed ferret skulls and 53 close congener skulls. Skulls were separated based on sex and captivity status and compared for all measurements as well as principal components derived from the measurements. Results found that there were significant differences between captive and wild specimens, in some ways to a greater extent than between wild specimens and the congeners, and that a diet change in the captive specimens likely helped decrease some of these differences. Based on the results, it is determined that captivity can cause unnatural cranial development and that diet likely has a major impact on cranial morphology.


© 2016, Tyler Antonelli

Included in

Biology Commons