What Is a Ferret? Is It For You?

While ferrets may look slightly rodent-like with their long, pointed snouts and ticklish whiskers, they are not rodents at all. Ferrets come from the Order Carnivora, which simply means “meat or flesh eating.” This is order encompasses a huge group of animals, from Fifi the common lap dog to the mighty African lion. Ferrets are further broken down into the Family Mustelidae, which they proudly share with such bold critters as the badger, wolverine, pine marten, sea other, and skunk. Included in that family are domesticated ferrets and ferret-like animals such as the weasel, European polecat, steppe polecat, black-footed ferret, and mink.

A huge amount of mystery and controversy surrounds our little ferret friends. The fact of the matter is that all polecats are very closely related and can interbreed among themselves successfully. That is, they can produce viable offspring. Nobody really knows exactly how the ferret is related to the rest of the polecats. Several theories exist, but the most commonly accepted one points toward the European polecat. Mustela putorius as having likely claims to ferret ancestry. While there has been little archeological evidence found to support this idea, genetically speaking, the European polecat and today’s modern ferret are practically twins. It’s possible that our domestic ferret is a polecat hybrid. The domestic ferret’s genetic makeup may be more of one polecat, probably the European, than another polecat. One of his grandparents may even no longer exist. But even a seemingly insignificant genetic difference can mean the difference between a horse and a zebra or a dog and coyote.

Genetic difference, however slight, can be highly significant. So the studies move forward. Researchers continue to compare our domestic ferret to other potential ancestor. However, it’s quite possible that we may never know the real answer in our own lifetime. For our own purpose, all we truly need to know is that we are dealing with a unique little creature – more affectionate than ferocious and so easy to fall in love with.

By Laura