A-z - Animals

Ferrets

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A ferret is a small domestic mammal of the weasel family Mustelidae, whose name comes from the Latin furittus, meaning "thief." If you've ever heard of someone "hunting" or "hunting" for something, it's thanks to the ferret's curious and hoarding behavior, which finds and hides items.

Domestication of this tiny predator began more than 2,500 years ago. It has traditionally been used to hunt mice, rabbits, and gophers, and became a popular pet in the United States in the 1980s. Today, this slender carnivore makes a cute, smart, playful, mischievous, lively pet, that is, when it's not sleeping. However, check your local state laws, as it is illegal to own them in many states, one of which happens to be California.

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Incredible Ferret Facts!

Ferret 1

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  • Ferrets can be trained to do tricks like dogs.
  • In their wild form, they are called fitchet, fitchew, or fitch.
  • The ancient Egyptians took the animals aboard sailboats to hunt rodents, and ferrets were used as early as 63 BC to help control rabbit populations in the Balearic Islands.
  • Ferrets were used to protect granaries during World War II.
  • Around 1221, Genghis Khan hunted with them.
  • They were named the official mascots of the Navy of Colonial Massachusetts in honor of their service.
  • A ferret's normal heart rate is 200 to 250 beats per minute.
  • In 1983, a 72-year-old Briton set the record for the longest legging in a ferret with a time of 5 hours and 26 minutes.

scientific name

chocolate ferret
Ferrets are related to minks, minks, and weasels

©Couperfield/Shutterstock.com

The animal, whose scientific name is Mustela furo , is a unique species. It was previously considered a subspecies of the skunk with the scientific name Mustela putorius furo . Mustela putorius is the scientific name for the European skunk of ferret origin. According to opinion, the ferret is a close relative of the skunk or the domesticated European skunk.



It is also thought that the steppe polecat ( Mustela eversmanni ) may have been bred to produce the European polecat or domestic ferret. Ferrets can cross with both and produce fertile offspring. In fact, polecat-ferret hybrids are slightly different in color but are genetically indistinguishable from purebred polecats using DNA analysis.

The term "ferret" also refers to other mustelids, such as the North American black-footed ferret, also known as the American skunk or the prairie hound ( Mustela nigripes ). Weaselidae are a large family of carnivorous mammals that include weasels, skunks, ferrets, badgers, minks, minks, otters, and wolverines. The genus Mustela specifically includes weasels, skunks, ferrets, minks, ferrets, and minks.

Ferret Health and Recreation

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type

  • Black-footed Ferret (Mustela Nigripes): The only species of ferret in the Americas, this carnivore specializes in hunting primitive dogs. Its slender build and large eyes allow it to enter the narrow tunnels dug by its prey and spot them in the dark.

appearance

Ferret standing on stump
Ferrets are known for their elongated bodies.

©jurra8/Shutterstock.com

There is only one type of domesticated ferret, or common ferret, although it has been divided into "breeds" or types called standard ferrets, Angora ferrets, and European ferrets. Angora ferrets, or "Angora" for short, have a mutation that results in longer fur. There is also an "Angora Rabbit" dilution. According to the American Ferret Association, there are 20 different types of these animals based on fur color, length and pattern. Albino, Blaze and Panda are just a few other examples. All facts about their behavior remain the same.

Different types of ferrets and other mustelids share similar physical characteristics; namely, they are small in size with elongated bodies and short legs. The average ferret is between 40 cm and 50 cm (18 in and 21 in) long, with an average length of 50 cm (20 in), including a 13 cm (5.1 in) tail, and weighs 0.7 to 2.0 kg (1.5 to 4.4 lbs). It has a longer body and a shorter tail than the weasel. Its coat colors are brown, white and black. Males are larger in size and weight than females, with more muscular bodies, larger, wider, rounder heads, and thicker, blunter snouts.

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Read here to learn more about how big ferrets are.

Differences from weasels, skunks, and other related animals

Ferrets are most closely related to weasels, minks, minks, and minks. While ferrets have been domesticated for thousands of years, most of their closest relatives are wild. Ferrets are longer compared to weasels. Also, undomesticated ferrets prefer grasslands, while skunks inhabit a wider range of habitats including swamps. Weasels are also more aggressive animals and have a reputation for being ferocious predators capable of hunting prey much larger than themselves.

evolution

most romantic animal
Ferrets are related to otters and several other mammals belonging to the weasel family

©iStock.com/pr2is

According to experts, mustelids, the genetic family to which ferrets belong, first appeared in the evolutionary scene 33 million years ago.

They were able to travel from their homeland of Eurasia to the Americas via the Bering land bridge.

They are also able to spread to every other continent except Antarctica and Australia.

The sum of these evolutionary processes that occurred over the course of millions of years gave rise to 9 subfamilies and 66 species.

This large family includes badgers, minks, ferrets, fishermans, minks, minks, otters, sables, weasels, weasels, and wolverines.

Behavior

Ferret vs Ferret
Ferrets are used to route cables and wires in narrow tunnels

©Couperfield/Shutterstock.com

British author and poet DH Lawrence once wrote, "Be sure to come back and paint ferrets; they are the loveliest noble darlings in the world." Like other mustelids, these animals exhibit complex social behaviour. One of these groups was known as the "enterprise" or "fesnyng" or historically the "busy". Unlike skunks, ferrets are not solitary, but happy in social groups. They are territorial and like to dig holes.

The domestication of these animals has led to their use to force mice, rabbits and gophers out of their burrows, and to hunt rodents on boats or in grain banks. First imported to the United States in the 1700s, they are often kept in warehouses and barns rather than cages, and they are sometimes paired with terriers for hunting, a practice known as "ferrets." The ferret sport was popular for about 200 years until the invention of chemical rodenticides.

These animals were used to place wires and cables in narrow tunnels before mechanical chutes were invented for the oil, telephone, and aviation maintenance industries. In a sport called "ferret leggings," popular among British pub patrons, two enraged ferrets are placed inside loose trousers strapped on by participants, who are prevented from biting only from the outside of their trousers.

The facts about their behavior also depend on the sex involved. Although ferrets are sexually dimorphic, it can sometimes be difficult to tell them apart. Women are said to be more unpredictable, while men are more mature. Intact males and females are not good pets by any means, and changing them will make them more mature. Ferrets can bite humans in certain situations if not properly trained.

These animals sleep 14-18 hours a day and prefer to sleep in enclosed areas such as cages. They have anal scent glands that produce musk, which are used for individual identification and territory marking. They mark territory by dragging their tails across the ground or spraying urine. Musk is a bad smell, so animals sold in the US have been domesticated, whereas in other parts of the world, domestication is considered unnecessary cruelty. They are also very messy, burrowing into the bedding of their cages to sleep in groups. They sleep so deeply that people can hold them, poke them, yell at them and they won't wake up. This is known as "ferret falling asleep," and it's a behavior that results from their need to rest after playing hard. They love to dance merrily, wrestle (especially dominant males), and chase each other.

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Other behaviors include biting the owner's toes, digging food out of a bowl (an example of burrowing), hissing like a snake (when angry or frightened), hoarding small objects, wagging the tail (when happy or excited), clucking or giggle (when happy or excited; known as "dooking") and stick out their tails (when threatened or scared). They also have what's called the "weasel war dance," which looks similar to their dance of joy, but with the tail up, hair bristling and hissing noises. On the other hand, when they're dancing with glee, they screw up and run, jump, jump, and bump into things awkwardly. Sometimes this joyous dance is called the Weasel War Dance.

When caged, these animals need at least an hour, preferably four, of playtime per day. They are most active at dawn and dusk, making them appear at dusk.

Read here to learn more about how to care for your pet ferret.

Learn more about the funniest unconventional pets here.

Habitat

albino ferret
Ferrets are found in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America

©everydoghasastory/Shutterstock.com

In the wild, ferrets are found throughout Europe, North and West Asia, and North Africa. Their habitats include forests, meadows, parks, villages, farms and barns or anywhere there is food. Black-footed weasels live in the bushes and grasslands of North America, so they are also called North American black-footed weasels.

diet

Ferrets are carnivores, preying on small mammals. As pets, they also love cooked protein

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These animals have sharp teeth and claws, can reach speeds of up to 15 mph, and have elongated bodies for finding and capturing prey. They are obligate carnivores, which means they must eat only meat and cannot survive without it. Their short digestive tract means they need to eat multiple times a day.

What do ferrets eat?

In the wild, these animals feed on small animals whole. Their prey includes rodents such as mice, rats and gophers, woodchucks, rabbits and other small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. As pets, they can be fed pre-killed or live prey such as mice and rabbits or commercial ferret food. They also enjoy hard-boiled eggs, chicken, turkey, lamb, and cat food. A balanced commercial ferret food contains 40% protein and 20% fat. When ferrets are sick, it is best to feed them baby food.

Which foods are harmful or poisonous to ferrets?

These animals should not eat fruits, vegetables, grains, or anything that is not animal protein. They start imprinting their food at about six months of age, so it's important to feed them the right foods from the start.

Predators and Threats

common black hawk
Eagles and other birds of prey prey on ferrets

©iStock.com/Thorsten Spoerlein

Birds of prey such as hawks and owls eat these animals. Large carnivorous mammals including dogs, coyotes, foxes and badgers also eat ferrets. Threats to black-footed ferrets are land development, agriculture, hunting and trapping, invasive species, and diseases caused by viruses or prions.

These animals have been bred on fur farms in Europe for centuries. Despite efforts to establish a ferret fur farming industry in the United States, they failed in the early 1900's.

These animals can get heartworm from the bite of an infected mosquito. They can be treated like cats for heartworm prevention. They may also suffer from hairballs and dental problems, as well as hair loss. If they chew and swallow foreign objects, they may develop intestinal obstruction. Their most common health problems were cancers of the adrenal gland, pancreas and lymphatic system, followed by viral diseases such as distemper and flu. Also, ferrets of certain colors (Blaze, Badger, and Panda) may carry a genetic defect called Waardenburg syndrome. Overfeeding ferrets can also cause problems in the long run.

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Health problems can also occur in intact females when they are not being used for reproduction, and if ferrets are prematurely neutered before they reach sexual maturity. Affected anal glands can occur in ferrets that have not yet descended.

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

Ferrets
Ferrets can live up to ten years

©iStock.com/Tatyana Consaul

If not breeding, females are in constant estrus or estrus between late March and early August. Ferrets reach sexual maturity at 4-8 months of age and females reach puberty between 8-12 months of age. Almost all ferrets that come from pet stores or shelters are spayed or neutered, so owners who want to breed them should seek out unaltered ferrets from private breeders.

The ferrets co-parent each baby. Ferret babies are called kits. All pups are born with white fur and acquire their adult color at 3 weeks. Intact females are jills and neutered females are elves. A full male is a hob and a neutered male is a gib.

Ferrets live 7-10 years, with an average of 8 years.

ferret population

ferret, cut out, white background, skunk, young animal
Conservation efforts boost black-footed ferret populations

©iStock.com/GlobalP

The black-footed ferret is on the verge of extinction, with 206 adult individuals remaining. It was once thought to be extinct due to a rabies epidemic, and the remaining 10 were kept in captivity and a breeding program began. So far, more than 5,000 cubs have been born, 2,000 of which have been released into the wild since 1991. This species lives in protected natural habitats in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming and northern Mexico.

By 1996, a government study by the California Bird and Mammal Conservation Program estimated that there were approximately 800,000 domesticated ferrets kept as pets in the United States.

ferret in the zoo

In addition to the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center in Colorado, there are five other breeding facilities for the species, all of them in zoos. You can see ferrets at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, Phoenix Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Louisville Zoo, and the San Diego Zoo Conservation Institute.

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Ferrets are carnivores; that is, they eat meat. And they are obligate carnivores, which means they must eat only meat and cannot survive without it.

Ferrets belong to the animal kingdom.

Ferrets belong to the class Mammalia.

Ferrets belong to the phylum Chordate.

Ferrets belong to the weasel family.

Ferrets belong to the order Carnivora.

Ferrets are covered with fur.

Ferrets belong to the genus Weasel.

Ferrets live in forests and grasslands.

Ferrets prey on mice, rabbits, and gophers.

Predators of ferrets include owls, foxes and badgers.

Ferrets have elongated bodies and large eyes.

The average number of babies a ferret has is 4.

The scientific name of the ferret is Mustela furo .

Ferrets live 7-10 years, with an average lifespan of 8 years.

Ferrets can travel as fast as 15 miles per hour.

Ferrets range in price from $65-275. Prices vary depending on whether they are purchased from a pet store, shelter, or private breeder, and the type of ferret.

For the right owner, ferrets make great pets, although they're not for everyone due to their mess, smell, and mischievous behavior.

While ferrets are playful, affectionate, and friendly enough to bond and get their owners' attention, ferrets aren't known for cuddling humans.

You can buy ferrets from pet stores, shelters, or private breeders.

Ferrets should always have at least one other companion. 3 is considered ideal because if one dies, the others are not alone.

Ferrets and ferrets vary in domestication status, size and overall appearance, including coat colour. Read all about them here!

Yes, ferrets have spines. However, their spines are very flexible and contain many thin bones.

Ferrets can eat cat food as an emergency meal, but it doesn't have enough protein to keep them healthy long-term.

No, ferrets are not rodents. Although they may look similar, they don't qualify as rodents.