Ferrets, a small member of the weasel family, endears itself to people with their fun-loving personality and silly antics even if they do get into a bit of mischief occasionally. Ferrets are also known to be thieves that enjoy stealing small objects from owners and hiding them in obscure places.
Ferrets have very specific needs unique to their species and only one species of ferret is kept as a pet, the Mustela furo. Pet ferrets are available in various coat colors and patterns within the species. The black-footed ferret is a wild cousin and the two should not be confused. Black-footed ferrets are the only ferret native to North America and have never been domesticated.
The average adult is about 15 inches long and as a pet, it can live about 8 years with proper care.
Ferrets are great pets for adults, but they should not be left around babies. Several reports have found that pet ferrets have attacked babies while the parents slept. They seem attracted to babies, perhaps due to odors resembling those of suckling rabbits. Typically, attacks are made when parents are absent or asleep; the ferret escapes its cage and jumps into the baby's crib.
Some ferrets may communicate by making entertaining noises or by using body language and nipping is a natural behavior to get attention or show defensiveness when awakened. They can be litter box-trained.
It is unclear when ferrets were first domesticated, but they have a long and storied history. Greek scholars—Aristophanes in 450 BCE and Aristotle in 350 BCE—wrote about a ferret-like animal. Some lore asserts that ancient Egyptians even kept them as pets, but the absence of ferret bones in explored tombs casts doubt on that claim. Remains have been found in a medieval castle in Belgium, but there is no mention of the pets in any contemporary writings. It's also possible that the ferret was exclusively a lower class pet, which would explain the lack of documentation.
In the late 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci painted Cecilia Gallerani holding a weasel-like creature. Although the animal has been dubbed an ermine, many scholars believe the animal is actually a ferret.
When threatened, ferrets will dance. In the wild ferrets perform a hypnotic dance that sends their prey into a trance. Domestic ferrets also perform this dance, but they use it for play instead of hunting. They arch their backs, puff their tails, and move from side to side. This is usually a sign that the ferret is happy and having fun.
A group of ferrets is called a business.
Rabbit hunting with ferrets is a popular sport in England. The ferrets run into rabbit holes to run the prey out of hiding. Hunting with ferrets is illegal in Minnesota.
They have also been employed to run through pipes. When wires cannot be pushed through tubes or tunnels, ferrets are are used to pull the wire the through.
Females can die if they go too long without mating. Unspayed females need to mate or run the risk of producing too much estrogen leading t estrogen toxicity which can cause anemia, clotting, and death.
Ferret-legging was an endurance test or stunt in which ferrets were trapped in trousers worn by a participant. It seems to have been popular among coal miners in Yorkshire, England. Contestants put live ferrets inside their trousers; the winner is the one who is the last to release the animals. The world record is five hours and thirty minutes.
At one time in the US ferrets were sold in hardware, sporting and general stores as commonly as steel traps or case knives and almost all of them came from Ferretville, USA, as it was called, a small town in Ohio. There was a time when five or six railroad cars of ferrets were being shipped out every night! It was my place of birth and an article in the February, 1936 issue of Popular Science tells all about it. About the ferrets that is.