Ferret (Mustela putorius furo)

 

Scientific classification

Kingdom:         Animalia

Phylum:            Chordata

Class:   Mammalia

Order:  Carnivora

Family: Mustelidae

Genus:  Mustela

Species:            M. putorius

Subspecies:      M. p. furo

 

The ferret is a domesticated mammal of the type Mustela putorius furo. Ferrets are sexually dimorphic predators with males being substantially larger than females. They typically have brown, black, white, or mixed fur, have an average length of 20 inches (51 cm) including a 5 inch (13 cm) tail, weigh about 1.5–4 pounds (0.7–2 kg), and have a natural lifespan of 7 to 10 years. Several other small, elongated carnivorous mammals belonging to the family Mustelidae (weasels) also have the word ferret in their common names, including an endangered species, the Black-footed Ferret. The ferret is a very close relative of the polecat, but it is as yet unclear whether it is a domesticated form of the European Polecat, the Steppe Polecat, or some hybrid of the two. The history of the ferret's domestication is uncertain, like that of most other domestic animals, but it is likely that ferrets have been domesticated for at least 2,500 years. They are still used for hunting rabbits in some parts of the world today, but increasingly they are being kept simply as pets. Being so closely related to polecats, ferrets are quite easily able to hybridize with them, and this has occasionally resulted in feral colonies of ferret-polecat hybrids that have been perceived to have caused damage to native fauna, perhaps most notably in New Zealand. As a result, some parts of the world have imposed restrictions on the keeping of ferrets, but not in the UK

 

 

Biology

Ferrets have a long and slender body covered with brown, black, white, or mixed fur ... Average length is 20 inches including a 5-inch tail. They weigh 1.5 to 4 pounds, with males substantially larger than females ... Gestation is 42 days, litters are usually 3 to 7 young, but sometimes more. Females may have two to three litters annually. Young are weaned after 3 to 6 weeks and become independent at 3 months. Sexual maturity may come at 6 months. Average life span is 8 years. The fur of the ferret is usually brownish, although many variations of colours and patterns exist. Some common colours that may be seen in ferrets include: albino (white fur and pink eyes); sable; chocolate; silver and cinnamon with patterns such as mitts (white feet); panda (white head); badger (white blaze), and Siamese (dark legs and tail). Males are generally larger than females. Ferrets are crepuscular, which means they spend 14–18 hours a day asleep and are most active around the hours of dawn and dusk. Unlike their polecat ancestors, which are solitary animals, ferrets will live happily in social groups. They are territorial, like to burrow and prefer to sleep in an enclosed area. Like many other carnivores, ferrets have scent glands near their anus, the secretions from which are used in scent marking. It has been reported that ferrets can recognize individuals from these anal gland secretions, as well as the sex of unfamiliar individuals. Ferrets may also use urine marking for sex and individual recognition. As with skunks, ferrets can release their anal gland secretions when startled or scared, but the smell is much less potent and dissipates rapidly. When excited, they may perform a routine commonly referred to as the weasel war dance, a frenzied series of sideways hops and bumping into things. This is often accompanied by a soft clucking noise, commonly referred to as dooking. Ferrets are obligate carnivores which means they are true carnivore solely dependent for survival on the nutrients found in animal flesh. . The natural diet of their wild ancestors consisted of whole small prey, i.e., meat, organs, bones, skin, feathers, and fur. Ferrets have four types of teeth (the number includes maxillary (upper) and mandibular (lower) teeth) Twelve small teeth (only a couple of millimetres) located between the canines in the front of the mouth. These are known as the incisors and are used for grooming.

Four canines used for killing prey. Twelve premolar teeth that the ferret uses to chew food -- located at the sides of the mouth, directly behind the canines. The ferret uses these teeth to cut through flesh, using them in a scissors action to cut the meat into digestible chunks. Six molars (two on top and four on the bottom) at the far back of the mouth are used to crush food

 

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 some other parts of the UK. Where ferrets coexist with polecats, hybridization is common.  It is thought that the domesticated ferrets come from Northern Africa. Specialists believe that these animals spread to Europe during the Roman or Norman invasions.

 

 

Further Reading in Information

 

 

Brown, Susan, “Inherited behaviour traits of the domesticated ferret"

Brown, Susan, “History of the Ferret"

Glover, James. "The Ancestry of the Domestic Ferret or a white and brown and black ferret"

 

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