Domestic Ferret Fact Sheet

Common Name:

Ferret, Little thief

Scientific Name:

Mustela putorius furo

Wild Status:

Domesticated in captivity

Habitat:

Grassland habitat

Country:

Likely descends from North Africa, New Zealand, Shetland Islands,

Shelter:

Underground tunnels

Life Span:

7 to 10 years

Size:

20 inches long and 1.5 to 4 pounds

Cool Facts:

  • Ferrets became domesticated a long time ago  but no one knows exactly when. Greek scholars mention a ferret-like animal in 450 BCE.
  • Ferrets are related to polecats.
  • A wild ferret would dance to put their prey into a trance. Domestic ferrets do a dance, but for play not for hunting.
  • The Black-footed ferret ate primarily only prairie dogs.
  • A group of ferrets is called a business.
  • Falcons and ferrets can work together to hunt prey.
  • Ferrets are used in England to rabbit hunt.
  • Ferrets are sometimes used to pull wires through tunnels or tubes because they enjoy pulling wire through underground tunnels.
  • Ferrets are known as little thieves because they like to steal items.
  • Female ferrets can die if they go to long without mating.
  • Having a ferret as a pet is banned in many places.

Details:

The ferret is a domesticated version of the European polecat and is related to the weasel. It is believed that ferrets became domesticated at least 2,500 years ago. They are usually black, white, or mixed, and are about 20 inches long weighing anywhere from 1.5 to 4 pounds. Males are usually larger than females. Ferrets have scent glands near their anus and use the secretions to scent mark. They can be de-scented but in some parts of the world it is seen as mutilation. The name ferret comes from the latin "furittus" which means "little thief". Ferrets are known for stealing items such as keys and necklaces from their owners. Ferrets are long and slender making it easy for them to through tunnels. They have been used to hunt for rabbits for this reason. They spend 14 to 18 hours a day asleep and are crepuscular. Ferrets are very social and like to live in groups. A group of ferrets is called a business.  If ferrets are excited they can do what's called "the weasel war dance," which involves side hops, leaps, and bumping into objects. Sometimes they emit a soft clucking noise called "dooking." Ferrets are carnivores and eat the entire prey, organs, skin, feathers, fur and even bones.  They have short digestive systems with a fast metabolism so they need to eat frequently. Ferret digestive tracks do not have cecum so they are unable to digest plant matter. Female ferrets can die if they don't mate because they run the risk of producing to much estrogen. A pregnant ferret's gestation period is 45 days, and may have two to three litters a year.    

Taxonomic Breakdown:

Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Mammalia Order: Carnivora Family: Mustelidae Genus: Mustela Species: Mustela putorius Subspecies: M. p. furo

Conservation & Helping:

Since ferrets are domesticated conservation is not applicable. However, the ferrets close relative, the Black footed ferret is endangered due to an inability to eat prairie dogs because cities and ranches have taken over their range.

For Teachers and Educators

Domestic-Ferret-Fact-Sheet.pdf

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