Ferret picture

The ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is the domesticated form of the European polecat, a mammal belonging to the same genus as the weasel, Mustela, in the family Mustelidae. Their fur is typically brown, black, white, or mixed. They have an average length of 51 cm, including a 13 cm tail, weigh about 1.5–4 pounds, and have a natural lifespan of 7 to 10 years. Ferrets are sexually dimorphic predators, with males being substantially larger than females.

The history of the ferret's domestication is uncertain, like that of most other domestic animals, but it is likely that they have been domesticated for at least 2,500 years. They are still used for hunting rabbits in some parts of the world, but increasingly they are kept only as pets.

Being so closely related to polecats, ferrets easily hybridize with them, and this has occasionally resulted in feral colonies of polecat–ferret hybrids that have caused damage to native fauna, especially in New Zealand. As a result, New Zealand and some other parts of the world have imposed restrictions on the keeping of ferrets.


The name "ferret" is derived from the furittus, meaning "little thief", a likely reference to the common ferret penchant for secreting away small items. The Greek word ictis occurs in a play written by Aristophanes, The Acharnians, in 425 BC. Whether this was a reference to ferrets, polecats, or the similar Egyptian mongoose is uncertain.

A male ferret is called a hob; a female ferret is a jill. A spayed female is a sprite, a neutered male is a gib, and a vasectomised male is known as a hoblet. Ferrets under one year old are known as kits. A group of ferrets is known as a "business", or historically as a "busyness". Other purported collective nouns, including "besyness", "fesynes", "fesnyng", and "feamyng", appear in some dictionaries, but are almost certainly ghost words.

History of domestication
Ferret picture

In common with most domestic animals, the original reason for ferrets being domesticated by human beings is uncertain, but it may have involved hunting. According to phylogenetic studies, the ferret was domesticated from the European polecat (Mustela putorius), and likely descends from a North African lineage of the species. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA suggests that ferrets were domesticated around 2,500 years ago. It has been claimed that the ancient Egyptians were the first to domesticate ferrets, but as no mummified remains of a ferret have yet been found, nor any hieroglyph of a ferret, and no polecat now occurs wild in the area, that idea seems unlikely.

Ferrets were probably used by the Romans for hunting.

Colonies of feral ferrets have established themselves in areas where there is no competition from similarly sized predators, such as in the Shetland Islands and in remote regions in New Zealand. Where ferrets coexist with polecats, hybridization is common. It has been claimed that New Zealand has the world's largest feral population of ferret-polecat hybrids. In 1877, farmers in New Zealand demanded that ferrets be introduced into the country to control the rabbit population, which was also introduced by humans. Five ferrets were imported in 1879, and in 1882–1883, 32 shipments of ferrets were made from London, totaling 1,217 animals. Only 678 landed, and 198 were sent from Melbourne, Australia. On the voyage, the ferrets were mated with the European polecat, creating a number of hybrids that were capable of surviving in the wild. In 1884 and 1886, close to 4,000 ferrets and ferret hybrids, 3,099 weasels and 137 stoats were turned loose. Concern was raised that these animals would eventually prey on indigenous wildlife once rabbit populations dropped, and this is exactly what happened to New Zealand's bird species which previously had had no mammalian predators.

As pets

In the United States, ferrets were relatively rare pets until the 1980s. A government study by the California State Bird and Mammal Conservation Program estimated that by 1996 about 800,000 domestic ferrets were being kept as pets in the United States.

Like many household pets, ferrets require a cage. For ferrets, a wire cage at least 18 inches long and deep and 30 inches wide or longer is needed. Ferrets cannot be housed in environments such as an aquarium because of the poor ventilation. It is preferable that the cage have more than one level but this is not crucial. Usually two to three different shelves are used.

All the information, except the pictures, has been taken from the following page.