CONTENTS

Living OrganismsAnimalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Carnivora / Mustelidae / Mustela / Species

Mustela putorius furo - Ferret (Click photographs/illustrations for full picture & further details)

Ferret peering out of a tube. Click here for full-page view with caption DCB9450FerretHands.jpg (32203 bytes) Head of an albino ferret. Click here for full-page view with caption Head of a fitch ferret. Click here for full-page view with caption Silver ferret with white face and throat. Click here for full-page view with caption Ferret with long mobile tongue. Click here for full-page view with caption Head of an albino ferret. Click here for full-page view with caption Ferrets have a long body and short legs. Click here for full-page view with caption Ferret face. Click here for full-page view with caption Fitch ferret with colouring similar to the wild polecat. Click here for full-page view with caption Sandy ferret. Click here for full-page view with caption Albino ferret. Click here for full-page view with caption Ferrets playing. Click here for full-page view with caption Ferrets are flexible. Click here for full-page view with caption Ftch ferret. Click here for full-page view with caption Fitch ferret. Click here for full-page view with caption Ferret face. Click here for full-page view with caption Albino ferret. Click here for full-page view with caption Ferret held supported. Click here for full-page view with caption Ferret supported on arm. Click here for full-page view with caption Ferret face. Click here for full-page view with caption Ferrets. Click here for full page view with caption Three ferrets varyious colours. Click here for full-page view with caption Ferret yawning. Click here for full-page view with caption. Ferret ear. Click here for full-page view with caption. Ferret front foot. Click here for full-page view with caption. Ferret hind foot. Click here for full-page view with caption.

INDEX - INFORMATION AVAILABLE

GENERAL & REFERENCES

APPEARANCE / MORPHOLOGY

LIFE STAGES / NATURAL DIET / PHYSIOLOGY

BEHAVIOUR

HABITAT & RANGE

CONSERVATION

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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

  • Note: The ferret is generally considered to be a domesticated version of Mustela putorius - Polecat (European polecat). However there is some discussion whether it is possibly derived from Mustela eversmanni - Steppe polecat; the skull of the domestic ferret resembles that of the Steppe polecat more than that of the European polecat. (B626.1.w1, B627.1.w1)
  • Mustela furo (B626.1.w1, B627.1.w1)
  • Mustela means "weasel", putorius is derived from putor, which means "stench", alluding to the ferret's musky odour, while furo means "thief." (J213.4.w7) 

 

Names for new-borns / juveniles

Kitten (B626.1.w1), Kit (B627.8.w8).

Names for males

Hob. (B626.1.w1)

Names for females

Jill. (B626.1.w1)

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General Appearance

Adult: Has a typical mustelid (Mustelidae - Weasels (Family)) body form, with comparatively small size, five toes per foot, short legs and a long body (B627.1.w1). 
  • A long thin body shape, with short legs. (B147, B631.17.w17)
  • The body is long, the legs short and muscular, and the tail long. (B627.1.w1)
  • It has a short head, with a short face and ears. (B627.2.w2)
  • Stands with an arched back. (B626.2.w2)
  • Resembles Mustela putorius - Polecat, but is found in different colour forms. (B626.2.w2)

Newborn: Altricial, blind, sparsely furred and helpless. (B627.8.w8)

Similar Species

Note: The ferret is generally considered to be a domesticated version of Mustela putorius - Polecat. However, there is some discussion whether it is possibly derived from one of the other polecat species. (B626.1.w1)

Sexual Dimorphism

Male is more robust and larger than the female. (B626.2.w2)

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References

Species Authors & Referees

Editor: Kevin J. Caley BSc JHons PhD (V.w148); Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)

ORGANISATIONS

ELECTRONIC LIBRARY
(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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Husbandry Information

Notes

  • Ferrets are small carnivores which sleep for long periods (as much as 16 hours a day) but are very active when they are awake.
  • Ferret cages or enclosures need a dark, enclosed sleeping area with bedding, separate feeding and latrine areas, and space to exercise. Unless kept in a large enclosure (called a court), ferrets need at least two hours a day outside their cage for exercise; this should not all be in one session.
  • Ferrets have a short gut and food passes through the gut rapidly. They should be fed several times a day (twice a day at the absolute minimum). If a complete pelleted (kibble) ration is given, it can be left available all the time.
  • Indoor ferrets should be provided with several litter trays - preferably one in each room they access, as well as one in their home cage.
  • Water needs to be available at all times, in a heavy bowl (or e.g. a tray weighted with a brick) or a water bottle.
  • Pipes and boxes, particularly joined together to make a maze, provide tunnelling opportunities for play. Ferret-safe toys (not e.g. rubber which they might eat) should also be provided. An area for digging will be appreciated and some ferrets like playing in water.

Management Techniques

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Appearance / Morphology

Measurement & Weight

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

LENGTH
Adult:
 

  • Males about 38 cm long, females 35 cm (including the tail)

Newborns: --

HEIGHT
Adults and sub-adults: --
Juveniles: --

WEIGHT
Adult: 

  • Males weigh 1,000 - 2000 g; females 600 - 900 g.  
  • Higher weights in captive ferrets reflect fat deposition. 
  • Note: Body weight may vary seasonally by as much as 20% in an individual ferret over the year, with the maximum in winter.

Newborns: About 8 - 12 g at birth.

GROWTH RATE

  • Ferrets grow rapidly, doubling their birth weight by five days, 10 times their birth weight by three weeks and reaching adult weight by 16 weeks.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports

Ferret Mustela putorius furo - Appearance-Morphology- Measurement and Weight (Literature Reports)

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Head and Neck

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

Ferret face. Click here for full-page view with caption Ferret yawning. Click here for full-page view with caption. Ferret ear. Click here for full-page view with caption.

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

GENERAL HEAD STRUCTURE:
Adult:
The head is twice as long as wide, with a short facial region and short rounded ears.
Newborn:
The ears are closed at birth.

DENTITION:
Adult:
The dental formula is I 3/3, C 1/1, P 3/3, M 1/2 x2 = 34. Supernumerary incisors are common.
Newborn:
Deciduous dentition I 4/3, C 1/1 P 3/3 x2 = 30.

EYES:
Adult:
The eyes are relatively small and are forward-facing.
Newborn:
The eyes are closed at birth. 

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Legs, Spine and Tracks

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

Ferret front foot. Click here for full-page view with caption. Ferret hind foot. Click here for full-page view with caption. Ferrets are flexible. Click here for full-page view with caption

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
  • Ferrets have short legs. 
  • They are plantigrade and have five digits on each foot
  • The vertebral column is very flexible dorso-ventrally.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Tail

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

Ferret held supported. Click here for full-page view with caption

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
  • The tail is long and is densely furred.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Skin / Coat / Pelage

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

Fitch ferret with colouring similar to the wild polecat. Click here for full-page view with caption Head of an albino ferret. Click here for full-page view with caption Ferret held supported. Click here for full-page view with caption Ferret face. Click here for full-page view with caption Sandy ferret. Click here for full-page view with caption

 

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

Adult: 

  • Ferrets have a layer of underfur covered by longer, coarser guard hairs. The undercoat is thicker in winter than in summer.
  • The ferret moults in spring and grows its thicker winter coat in late autumn.
  • The skin is thick, particularly over the dorsal neck and shoulders.
  • Ferrets have active sebaceous glands and paired anal glands.

Adult Colour variations: 

  • The two most distinct colour forms are the albino (also called English) and the polecat-marked fitch (sable), with black guard hairs. Various other colours are recognised, including several with white markings on the chest, face and/or feet.

Newborn/Juvenile: 

  • Neonates have a sparse white coat which, except in albino/white ferrets, turns grey by about three days old.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Detailed Anatomy Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
  • Ferrets have a fairly typical carnivore digestive system, with short intestines. 

Further information is available within this section on the structure of the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract and other organs.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports

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Life Stages / Natural Diet / Physiology

Life Stages

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

BREEDING SEASON:

  • Ferrets are photoperiod controlled seasonal breeders, breeding March to August in the northern hemisphere, September to March in New Zealand (southern Hemisphere). 

OESTRUS/OVULATION:

  • Females are monoestrous and remain in oestrus until mated, ovulating 30-40 hours later. After weaning their litter they return to oestrus about two weeks later, or the following breeding season. If there are less than about five corpora lutea or suckling young, females may return to oestrus 2-3 weeks after the birth of the kits.

GESTATION/PREGNANCY:

  • Pregnancy lasts 40-44 days, average 42 days. If the jill is mated but does not become pregnant (e.g. after mating with a vasectomised male), pseudopregnancy occurs, lasting about the same time as a normal pregnancy.

PARTURITION/BIRTH:

  • Parturition is usually rapid, with all kits delivered within 2 - 3 hours.

NEONATAL/DEVELOPMENT:

  • Kits are altricial at birth, with minimal fur (abundant by two weeks) and closed eyes; they are also deaf. The eyes open at about 34 days and they are able to hear by about 32 days. Deciduous teeth erupt at 3-4 weeks and are replaced by permanent teeth at 50-74 days. They start exploring and eating solid food when about three weeks old while the eyes are still closed, and are more active from about four weeks, lively by five weeks and playing a lot by six weeks. They are weaned by 6 - 8 weeks.  

LITTER SIZE:

  • The litter may contain 2 - 18 kits; average may be 8 - 9.

TIME BETWEEN LITTERS / LITTERS PER YEAR:

  • Feral ferrets usually raise one litter per year; captive ferrets under normal lighting conditions may raise two litters.

LACTATION / MILK PRODUCTION:

  • Lactation lasts about six weeks.

SEXUAL MATURITY:

  • Ferrets reach sexual maturity usually in the spring after their birth.

MALE SEASONAL VARIATION:

  • The male's testes are small and intra-abdominal outside the breeding season. The testes descend with spermatogenesis starting in December and continuing to July (northern hemisphere).

LONGEVITY / MORTALITY:

  • Lifespan of captive ferrets may be 5 - 15 years, usually up to 10 years.
  • For feral juvenile ferrets at a farmland site in North Canterbury, New Zealand, juveniles had a yearly survival probability of 0.55 and a life expectancy of 1.3 years. 
  • Natural causes of death of ferrets in New Zealand include starvation, disease and cannibalism; ferrets also die as road-kill and due to predator control programmes (e.g. lethal trapping). 

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Natural Diet

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

NATURAL DIET:

STUDY METHODS:

  • Examination of scats and examination of stomach contents have been used to study the diet.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Hibernation / Aestivation

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

Not applicable.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Haematology / Biochemistry

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
Haematology
Biochemistry

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports

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Detailed Physiology Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

METABOLISM (TEMPERATURE):

  • Body temperature 37.8 - 40 C. 

RESPIRATORY SYSTEM (RESPIRATION):

  • Resting respiratory rate 33-36 breaths per minute. 

CIRCULATORY SYSTEM (PULSE/HEART RATE):

  • Resting heart rate is about 180-250 bpm.

GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM (FAECES AND GUT MOTILITY):

  • Ferrets are obligate carnivores with a very short intestinal tract. Total food transit time may be as short as three hours in adults, one hour in kits on milk.

URINARY SYSTEM (URINE): 

  • Urine volume per 24 hours may be 8-48 mL in males and 8-140 mL in females.

CHROMOSOMES: 2n = 40 Chromosomes.

MUSCULO-SKELETAL SYSTEM: 

  • No special features.

SPECIAL SENSES AND VOCALISATIONS:

  • Ferrets have excellent hearing and senses of smell and taste. Their vision is poor relative to these but they have good binocular vision and good vision at low light levels; they react well to movement at mouse escape speeds.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Behaviour

Feeding Behaviour

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
  • Ferrets were bred for hunting rats and rabbits.
  • Ferrets eat carrion as well as hunting live prey. 
  • When meeting at a carcass, they have been seen to share the carcass.
  • They are known to take prey and carrion back to their den sites.

Further information on diet is provided in Ferret Mustela putorius furo - Natural Diet (Literature Reports)

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports

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Parental Behaviour

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
  • The female (jill) raises the kits.
  • She may build a nest and may use her own fur for nesting material.
  • Initially she stays with the litter constantly; after the first day she will leave the kits for short periods to feed and defecate.
  • The jill is very responsive to the kits' vocalisations.
  • As the kits become active, she repeatedly drags them back to the nest by their scruffs.

Further information on reproduction is provided in Ferret Mustela putorius furo - Life Stages (Literature Reports)

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports

Ferret Mustela putorius furo - Parental Behaviour (Literature Reports)

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Social Behaviour / Territoriality / Predation / Learning

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
  • Home range size varies from about 31 hectares in males and 12 hectares in females to 299 hectares in males, 111 hectares in females.
  • Home ranges may show overlap both within and between the sexes, although most of the core area of each ferret may be exclusive.
  • In a study at one site, most juveniles moved less than 1.5 km and 90% moved less than 5 km. In a study at another site, median dispersal distance was 5.0 km (range 0.5 - 45.0 km, with no obvious sex bias in distance or timing of dispersal.
  • Ferrets may express their anal glands when threatened.
  • Ferrets do not always avoid each other: simultaneous use of the same den by two adult males or two adult females has been observed. However, at Pukepuke Lagoon, New Zealand, several males showed wounds and scars on the necks, indicating fighting, and male home ranges were mutually exclusive.
  • Ferrets use scent marking, including scats, anal dragging (particularly near latrines), wiping, body rubbing and chin rubbing (at food sites). Scent marks are left throughout the home range. 
  • Feral ferrets in New Zealand have been seen to displace feral cats from carcasses.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports

Ferret Mustela putorius furo - Social Behaviour - Territoriality - Predation - Learning (Literature Reports)

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Sexual Behaviour

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
  • Males show increased territorial activities (scent-laying, fighting) during the breeding season.
  • Mating is violent and noisy, with the male biting the female's neck and dragging her.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Activity Patterns, Self-grooming and Navigation

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

ACTIVITY PATTERNS: --

SELF-GROOMING: --

CIRCADIAN RHYTHM: A study of ferrets in a coastal grassland in New Zealand found that in spring they were only active at night. In autumn they were active mainly at night but with some daytime activity.

SPEED OF MOVEMENT: --

NAVIGATION: --

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Habitat and Range

General Habitat Type

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
  • The wild ancestor of the ferret, Mustela putorius - Polecat, is found in forests, meadows, cultivated land, including abandoned fields, often near water.
  • Introduced ferrets in new Zealand use coastal grasslands and modified short-tussock grasslands with varied terrain. One study found that in a pastoral area, ferrets were found particularly along boundaries between pasture and vegetation cover.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Nests / Burrows / Shelters

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
  • Ferrets generally use areas with cover, not open areas, for dens.
  • Often they use rabbit burrows as dens.
  • They commonly use man-made structures (barns, hay stacks, wood piles, etc.) when these are available.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

NATIVE DISTRIBUTION: 

  • The wild ancestor of the ferret, Mustela putorius - Polecat originates from western Europe, including European Russia, Sweden and Great Britain (Wales and southern England / Midlands), as well as Morocco. 

INTRODUCTIONS: 

  • New Zealand, Australia, UK, USA, Canada, Sicily, Sardinia, Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands (La Palma). 
  • Found in captivity over much of the world.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Conservation

Species variation

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports

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Conservation Status

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

WILD POPULATION - IMPORTANCE: 

  • Ferret are regarded as a domestic form of Mustela putorius - Polecat. Therefore, wild populations are regarded as introduced and treated as exotic predators. 

GENERAL LEGISLATION:

  • In some US states, keeping of ferrets is illegal. 

CITES LISTING: 

  • Not applicable (domestic form).

RED-DATA LIST STATUS: 

  • Not applicable (domestic form).

THREATS: 

  • The ferret is known to hybridise with the wild ancestral form within the UK at least, where there is cause for concern regarding the effect of this on the Mustela putorius - Polecat

PEST STATUS / PEST POPULATIONS: 

  • Ferrets have been introduced in several areas, including the UK (where they are known to hybridise with native populations of Mustela putorius - Polecat).
  • Ferrets are important introduced predators of native New Zealand fauna.

CAPTIVE POPULATIONS: 

  • Ferrets are popular as a working animal, and increasingly popular as a pet - e.g. 9,552 licenses were issued for using ferrets in hunting in the Canaries in 2007. 

TRADE AND USE:  

  • Ferrets are used for hunting rabbits, for rodent examination, for laying cables, for fur, and as laboratory animals for biomedical research.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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