New Zealand Journal of Ecology (1998) 22(2): 113- 119

Intraspecific and seasonal differences in the diet of feral ferrets (Mustela furo) in a pastoral habitat, east Otago, New Zealand

Research Article
J. R. Ragg 1,2
  1. Department of Zoology, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
  2. Present address: Ecosystem Consultants Ltd, P.O. Box 6161, Dunedin, New Zealand

This study reports the diet of feral ferrets (Mustela furo) in a pastoral habitat, East Otago, South Island, New Zealand. Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) were the most common prey of ferrets, occurring in 86.7% of seats, but birds (12.4%) and invertebrates (11.3%) were also frequently eaten. Female ferrets ate more non-lagomorph prey items, especially invertebrates and birds than males. No significant dietary differences were found between juvenile and adult ferrets except in summer when juveniles ate more lagomorph prey. There were seasonal differences in the consumption of rabbits, invertebrates, skinks, possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) and small and large secondary prey items. Seasonal differences in ferret diet are likely to be related to the relative abundance of the various prey items. Lagomorph availability may also be a determinant of the frequency of occurrence of other prey items in the diet. Dietary differences may differentially influence the functional response of adults and juveniles and/or males and females to rabbit control or other manipulations of prey populations. Bovine tuberculosis (Mycobacterium bovis) infections in ferret populations show intraspecific variation with more males than females and more adults than juveniles infected. Intraspecific dietary differences in diet were not observed in the species (possums and hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus)) considered to be the main sources of infection for ferrets.