The Ferret (Mustela Putorius Furo) is not a wild animal but a companion animal that has been domesticated for thousands of years. Pictures of ferrets on leashes adorn Egyptian pyramids and Greek and Roman scribes reference them as vermin hunters and pets. In England, in the 1200's, it cost a pretty shilling to own a ferret and they were found primarily in the households of high-ranking nobles and church officials. In the 17th and 18th centuries, European and American Navies preferred using the ferret over the cat to rid their ships of vermin. The ferret was considered bolder and able to follow its prey into any crevice or hole. Ferrets have more recently been used as transporters, relying on their natural inclination to run through tunnels. Oilmen, telephone companies, even airline manufacturers, have used ferrets to draw cables through conduits and other difficult locations.
Ferrets are not rodents. They are believed to be descended from either the Eastern or Western European Polecat and are therefore related to weasels, otters, minks and badgers. Ferrets are carnivorous and in areas where they have gone feral – such as New Zealand – they have decimated indigenous populations of small mammals and birds.
The only naturally wild ferret is the Black-Footed Ferret, found in the central United States. This nocturnal carnivore faced almost certain extinction in 1987. In hopes of preventing this, the 18 remaining Black-footed Ferrets were captured and a breeding program started. Although the breeding has been successful, their reintroduction into the wild has been difficult. Black-footed Ferrets rely almost solely upon prairie dogs for food. The lack of large, viable prairie dog colonies, combined with the inability to train the ferrets in certain survival skills, has led to a high mortality rate. The state of Kansas has been a leader in bringing the black-footed ferret back, with land-owners going so far as to defy court orders to eradicate prairie dog colonies on their pastures, thereby giving the ferret a much needed environmental paw-hold.
Fun Ferret Facts
- The Black-footed ferret prefers to live and hunt alone, but the domestic ferret craves companionship. They can even "fail to thrive" if not given enough social time with their owner.
- The word "ferret" as a verb means to "seek intensively," or "hound persistently."
- The ferret's latin name - Mustela Putorius Furo - means Mouse-catching stinky thief.
- In England, in 1390, a law was passed prohibiting the practice of hunting with ferrets on Sunday.
- Ferrets can fit into incredibly small spaces and when ferret-proofing your home, you are advised to block all openings larger than 1" in diameter.
- Ferrets are the 3rd most popular pet in the United States.
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