The Origins of the Ferret

Where do Ferrets come from?

The origins of one the world’s much-loved household pets is still hotly debated. Some things are normally agreed upon, yet a great deal  continues to be shrouded in mystery.

The Classical Greek Ferret

Mentions of ferrets, or very similar creatures, date back hundreds of years. Although not definitely identified as such, an animal very similar to ferrets is referred to in a play written by Aristophanes and works by Aristotle more than two thousand five hundred years ago. Much more specific are definitely the numerous pieces of evidence of ferrets, in both writings and paintings, from  late Medieval times.

The “Royal” Ferret

One can find references in the thirteenth century to ferreters that were members of the ‘staff’ in the Royal Court of England. Between 1200 and 1400 ferrets were actually a popular pet among royalty. However, the word  ‘pet’ possessed a somewhat different meaning when ascribed to an animal hundreds of years ago. Pet animals were required to “earn a living” in days gone by. These ferrets were most likely bred with that in mind. Due to the increase in rabbit and rodent populations, along with the increase in grain storehouses and farming, an animal that could hunt down those that fed on them was regarded as very helpful. Ferrets were extremely good at slipping into burrows and chasing out rabbits. They were also able to easily flush out mice.

The Domesticated European Polecat?

Exactly who were their ancestors is hard to determine precisely. As their small bones decay so completely, it is difficult to find fossil evidence to identify their precise heritage. The main theory is that they descended from European polecats. Experts possess many clues to help them in attempting to confirm that. They are able to study the general body features (known as ‘morphology’) of ferrets, and then compare them with various other species. They’re able to examine teeth and make some very good suppostitions regarding diet, which assists them to pin down area and type. They can look at body fat distribution   and compare it  with genetic cousins. And also, they can analyze ferret  DNA and carry out detailed comparisons   with known species.

The Latin Thief

Experts have given ferrets, like the majority of creatures, a Latin name. They are a member of a family known as ‘mustelids’, that comes from the Latin ‘mus‘ (for ‘mouse’). However they are not rodents. The complete title is Mustela Putorius Furo. Putor makes reference to their scent and furo is derived from the term pertaining to thief. The latter indicates that even hundreds of years ago ferrets had been frequently seen stealing things and concealing them.

Progressively, throughout the 1800s, they emerged increasingly as working companions. They have also been trained to thread cabling through conduits in the North Sea and also to run cables through small tubes in aircraft. By the the time the 1970s came along, they had evolved into simply domestic pets for huge numbers of people.

About the Author

Paul writes small pet articles as a hobby. He lives in the Italian Alps with his long-suffering partner and threevery spoilt cats...

4 Comments on "The Origins of the Ferret"

  1. vera olson | 25/03/2010 at 4:54 pm |

    can u use catlitter in the ferrets cage?

  2. can catlitter be used in the ferrets cage?

  3. Ira Aaronson | 07/10/2012 at 11:51 pm |

    Yes Vera, Catlitter is the most common cage additive. As long as you have a pan for the litter your ferret will become attracted to it. If you place the ferret in the pan at first it will quickly get the point. Do not keep food too close to the litter pan. Good luck!

  4. These pictures are cute

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