The first image that comes to mind for most people when they think of ferrets is of a silly little clown rolling around on the floor. And, while it is true that ferrets are mischievous and they love to explore and play, it would be a mistake to dismiss them as nothing more than a furry jester. It doesn't help that perception when they are often dressed in tiny little ferret outfits and walked on leashes, but the fact remains that they are highly efficient predators.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order - Carnivora
Family - Mustelidae
Genus – Mustela
Species – Mustela putorius
Subspecies - Mustela putorius furo
Common Names – Ferret
Ferrets are the domesticated form of the European polecat. They are small weasels with brown, black, white, or combination coats. They can range from 1-5 pounds with males being significantly heavier than females. Their bodies are long and agile, making them ideal for their original purpose of hunting small burrowing animals. When observed, it is hard to distinguish their hips and shoulders, making them appear to almost undulate as they move. They can live up to ten years with eight being about average.
They become sexually mature at six months of age and they can produce several litters each year, each containing 3-7 young (kits). The gestation is seven weeks and the kits generally are mature enough to leave their mother at the age of three months. As a result, breeding must be strictly controlled to avoid severe overpopulation.
Ferrets are highly social with both other ferrets and humans. They are curious and playful but can also be destructive and messy. They are strictly carnivorous and cannot digest plant proteins, powering their hunting instinct, which is one of the reasons captive ferrets thrive when they have strong interactions and projects. They were originally bred as hunters, but they have been used in modern times to run wire through small tunnels and pipes, making them adorable little electrician's assistants.
Ferrets were domesticated over two millennia ago for the purpose of hunting vermin. Their wild ancestor is the European polecat, a type of weasel, that still roams Europe today. The ancestor of modern weasels evolved in North America 30 million years ago and then traveled to Eurasia.
Ferrets are a common household pet, although they are illegal in some areas, mostly from a fear that the domesticated animal will escape and become invasive. Ferrets do not have the necessary skills to live well in the wild and most escapees die within a few days if they are not recovered, although some have survived and even interbred with polecats. They are still used in some areas to hunt small mammals, but that is becoming more rare.
- International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)
- The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
- American Ferret Association
- The Natural History of Weasels and Stoats by Carolyn M. King, Roger A. Powell
- Ferrets: A Complete Guide by Diana Geiger