Mustela means those who carry off mice,
putorius means stench, and furo means
thief. Domestic ferrets are closely
related to the European polecat (Mustela
putorius) and resemble the Siberian
steppe polecat (Mustela eversmanni).
They are in the same family as weasels,
mink, ermine, martens, skunks, badgers,
otters, wolverine, and the black-footed
ferret, although they are not closely
related to the black-footed ferret. They
are long and slender, like most of their
family, but tend to lack the same muscle
mass. Males range from 2 to 3 ½ pounds.
The females are about half that size, or
about 1 to 2 ¼ pounds. Domestic ferrets
are being bred for a wide variety of
colors, but the basic ones are white and
sable. Both albino and black-eyed whites
make up white colored ferrets, while the
sable ones come in a variety of patterns
and markings. A few shades within sable
are chocolate, cinnamon, champagne,
silver mitt, and black. Ferrets have
scent glands to mark territory and will
increase production of secretions when
they are excited or afraid. These glands
are easily removed. Offspring are called
kits, breeding females Jills, spayed
females Sprites, and males are Hobs, or
Gibs when neutered.
Ferrets sleep around 15-20 hours per
day. They sleep so soundly that they
often appear to be dead, although when
playing they are extremely rambunctious
and even loud. Ferrets like to stash
things in hiding places and will steal
anything from socks to keys. They are
extremely social and very intelligent.
Ferrets can be trained to use a litter
box, learn their name, and walk on a
leash or harness.
REPRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT:
The natural breeding cycle of the
domestic ferret is determined by the
length of daylight and temperature. In
the northern hemisphere, the season is
March to August, and in the southern
hemisphere it is September to February.
Gestation is about six weeks and they
usually have about 5-8 kits. The kits
are usually weaned at about six weeks.
Jills, or unspayed females, have to
constantly be bred otherwise they will
remain in heat. If they are not allowed
to breed and remain in heat, they will
develop aplastic anemia and die.
Domestic ferrets typically live to be
5-7 years of age, but some have lived as
long as 10.
Ferrets have actually been domesticated
for 5000 years, being found in Egyptian
burial sites. They have been used for
long periods of time in the past for
rabbit hunting. They were sent into
rabbit burrows to chase the rabbits out.
This is now illegal. As pets, they
reached a peak of popularity in 1875,
when Queen Victoria began giving them as
gifts to visiting heads of state. They
probably came to North America around
the same time, when furriers began
importing them from Spain.