The ferret is a common domesticated animal that is widely used as a pet by people around the world. Ferrets are usually brown, white, black, or may have a mixed fur. Ferrets are diminutive creatures with an average length of 20 inches and a weight not exceeding four pounds. Despite widespread knowledge and domestication, few people actually know where the animals used to live in the wild or what they behaved like before domestication.
Until now, it is still unclear why ferrets were domesticated, although most theories have to do with hunting. Claims state that the Egyptians were the first to domesticate them around 2,500 years ago, although there has been no proof of this being true. Despite all the uncertainty, it is not contested that ferrets were valuable assets when it came to hunting because of their lean builds, heightened senses, and their ability to chase small animals. Studies have shown that the current domesticated ferret descended from the European polecat and may also have relation to a similar species from North Africa.
Characteristics of ferrets
Typically, ferrets have long and slender bodies with an average length of about 20 inches and a tail tht is about 5 inches. Their fur also comes in various colors such as brown, white, black, or a mixture of the two. On average, they weigh between 1.5 pounds and 4.5 pounds with the males being larger than females. Females gestate for a period of 42 days with an average litter size of between three and seven kits. The small ones mature after six months. The average lifespan of a ferret ranges between seven and ten years.
Behavior of ferrets
Ferrets are crepuscular, that is, they sleep for most hours of the day (between 14 and 18 hours) with the most activity in their lives happening around dawn and dusk. Unlike most of their polecat ancestors, ferrets are actually social animals who live in groups that are known as “businesses.” A business will have its own territory which sleeps in an enclosed area.
Similar to skunks, ferrets release secretions from their anal glands to scare off intruders and would-be predators. However, their secretions are less potent compared to those from a skunk. When excited, the animals do an excited dance that is characterized by a frenzy of jumps and hops. Even though the dance is known as the “weasel war dance,” it is actually an expression of joy.
Diet of ferrets
Ferrets are true or obligate carnivores, that is, their survival depends entirely on nutrients found only in flesh. Their ancestors used to feed on small prey. Presently, owners who own ferrets will buy prepared foods made up of meat which provides the required nutrients. Some owners prefer killing small animals such as rodents and feed them to their ferrets.
Conservation of ferrets
Some species, like the black-footed ferret, are considered endangered due to their dwindling numbers. After a few instances where the animal went extinct in some places, the US launched programs that saved the species. As it stands, there are over 1,000 black-footed ferrets alive.