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It has few whiskers, and its ears are triangular, short, erect and broad at the base. The toes are armed with sharp, very slightly arched claws.
The feet on both surfaces are covered in hair, even to the soles, thus concealing the claws.
The sides of the head and the ears are dirty-white in color.
Adult females usually occupy the same territory every year.
It combines several physical features common in both members of the subgenus Gale (least, short-tailed and long-tailed weasels) and Putorius (European and steppe polecats).
A small spot occurs over each eye, with a narrow band behind the black mask.
First discovered by Audubon and Bachman in 1851, the species declined throughout the 20th century, primarily as a result of decreases in prairie dog populations and sylvatic plague.
It was declared extinct in 1979 until Lucille Hogg's dog brought a dead black-footed ferret to her door in Meeteetse, Wyoming in 1981.
Males measure 500–533 millimetres (19.7–21.0 in) in body length and 114–127 millimetres (4.5–5.0 in) in tail length, thus constituting 22–25% of its body length. The base color is pale yellowish or buffy above and below.
The top of the head and sometimes the neck is clouded by dark-tipped hairs.