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Weasel vs Ferret: 5 Key Differences Explained

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Weasels and ferrets are small carnivorous mammals characterized by their elongated bodies and pointed snouts. Both animals also often have white markings on their bodies, making them look very similar. In fact, they are often confused because of their appearance. However, there are a few key differences that make it easy to tell which is which.

Although they both have white markings, their actual body colors vary. Also, one is much bigger than the other, but the shorter one actually has a longer tail! But that's not all, as they are active at different times of the day and have very different temperaments and social structures. So why not join us as we discover and explain all the main differences between weasels and ferrets!

Comparing Ferrets and Weasels

There are 21 species in the subfamily Mustelidae , including 11 species of weasel, 2 species of ferret, and the rest are skunk, mink and mink. Commonly kept as pets, ferrets have been domesticated for thousands of years and they are known as Mustela furo . However, while most are domesticated, some ferrets remain in the wild, notably the endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) that lives in North America.

At first glance, weasels and ferrets seem very similar, but the deeper we look, the more we realize that they are both completely unique in their respective fields. Check out the table below for some key differences.

Ferrets weasel
size 8 to 20 inches 10 to 12 inches
Place North America, North Africa, Europe North America, South America, Asia, Europe, North Africa
Habitat grassland Woodlands, swamps, swamps, meadows, urban areas
color black/dark brown, sometimes with cream markings light brown/tan with white underside
night and day night/dusk day and night
Social Structure social solitary
domesticated Yes No
diet Mice, Rats, Rabbits, Birds, Marmots Rats, mice, voles, rabbits, birds, eggs
predator coyotes, badgers, bobcats, foxes, owls, hawks, hawks Birds of prey such as foxes, owls, and hawks
life 5 to 10 years 4 to 6 years old

5 Key Differences Between Weasels and Ferrets

The main difference between ferrets and weasels is that ferrets are usually longer than weasels. Additionally, ferrets live in grasslands, while weasels live in more diverse habitats, including swamps, and are also successful in urban environments. Finally, ferrets are darker in color and nocturnal, while weasels are diurnal. Let's examine these differences in more detail!

Read more  Mink vs. Weasel: 5 Key Differences

Weasel vs. Ferret: Size

Weasel vs Ferret 5 Key Differences Explained 1
Weasel tails are almost as long as their bodies

© James Lindsey at Commanster Ecology/Creative Commons

One of the most notable differences between weasels and ferrets is their size. Ferrets are usually much longer than weasels, ranging from 8 to 20 inches from nose to tail. Weasels are much smaller, usually only 10 to 12 inches.

However, there are some differences between them in the size department. Although both animals have similar tubular bodies, ferrets are much leaner than weasels. Also, weasels have much longer tails than ferrets. Ferrets have short tails, usually about 5 inches long, but weasel tails are almost as long as their bodies.

Weasel vs. Ferret: Habitat

Weasels are highly adaptable animals that can live in a variety of different places. However, they prefer to live in woodlands, swamps, swamps, meadows, and they can even be found in urban areas. On the other hand, while most ferrets are domesticated, in the wild they prefer to live on grasslands. Ferrets in the wild live in tunnels that are usually dug by other animals because they are not the best diggers themselves. They actually often live in the tunnels dug by groundhogs, which are on the menu for ferrets.

Weasel vs Ferret: Colors

Easily the most obvious difference between a weasel and a ferret is the difference in their appearance. Ferrets are usually dark brown or black, sometimes with mixed cream markings. Weasels are much lighter in color, light brown or tan with a white underbelly.

Weasel vs. Ferret: Night or Day

Another major difference between these two small mammals is their sleeping habits. Ferrets and weasels are active at completely different times of the day. Weasels are diurnal, active and hunting during the day and sleeping at night. In contrast, ferrets are the complete opposite, they are mostly nocturnal, they sleep during the day and are most active at night. However, sometimes ferrets may also be more prone to twilight behavior, which is when they are most active around dawn and dusk.

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Weasels and Ferrets: Domestication

Pets Illegal to Own in the U.S.: Ferrets
Ferrets have been domesticated for over 2,000 years

©jurra8/Shutterstock.com

The natures of weasels and ferrets are even quite different, as can be seen from the domestication of ferrets. While there are some wild ferrets and some domesticated ferrets that have escaped to live in the wild, most ferrets are domesticated and have been around for centuries. Ferrets were first domesticated about 2,500 years ago, probably by the ancient Greeks to hunt pests. Ferrets are very intelligent and have a playful and mischievous nature and are kept as pets in many countries today. However, even now, they are still widely used to kill pests.

In stark contrast to ferrets, weasels are always described as wild animals and have not been domesticated or kept as pets. Weasels are vicious and aggressive hunters who are brave and strong enough to attack prey much larger than they are.

FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are weasels and ferrets in the same family?

Yes, both weasels and ferrets belong to the weasel family, the largest family in the order Carnivora , which includes badgers, otters, minks, skunks, ferrets, and wolverines, among others. Weasels and ferrets are also from the same subfamily – Mustelinae – which includes weasels, ferrets and minks.

How do weasels kill their prey?

Like the big cats, weasels will bite their prey quickly and aggressively to the nape of the neck or base of the skull, which is usually instantly fatal. Like foxes, when food is plentiful, weasels will kill more than they need and store the rest in underground storage rooms.

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Are ferrets skunks?

It is widely believed that the European skunk is the wild ancestor of the domesticated ferret. Ferrets are thought to have been bred from skunks more than 2,000 years ago to hunt rodents such as rats.

Why do weasels "war dance"?

A weasel war dance is a form of behavior in which a weasel performs an excited series of sideways and backward jumps, usually with an arched back, accompanied by a series of "clucking" sounds. This war dance is often used to confuse and confuse prey before attacking. Ferrets sometimes engage in the same behavior, but in domestic ferrets, they "catch" toys or other objects, usually during play.

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about the author


For many years, I have been writing professionally, with an emphasis on animals and wildlife. I love spending time outdoors, and when I'm not writing I'll be found on a farm surrounded by horses, dogs, sheep and pigs.

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