Ferret are relatives to weasels and minks. They were domesticated 2,500 years for hunting and pest control. Since 1980, they have become popular as domesticated pets in the United States.
Ferrets are carnivorous mammals often domesticated from the European polecat, though some breeds may have came from the Steppe polecat. They are commonly black, brown, or mixed with white underbellies. However, white ferrets are common as well. Ferrets domesticated from the European polecat can be identified by a black “bandit mask” that runs across their eyes. They are in the same family as minks and weasels.
In Latin, their names means “little thief” and may stem from their tendency to take objects and hide them away in secret, out-of-reach places. Ferrets were domesticated over 2,500 years ago and were used by the Romans for hunting of rabbits. Their use in hunting continued through the dark ages to present day. They are noted for the hunting rabbits due to the ferret’s long muscular body that can easily transverse burrows and find the prey hiding inside. In World War II, ferrets were used by the United States to protect grain storages from rodents and rabbits.
Ferrets became popular in the United States as pets during 80’s when celebrity vetinarian Dr. Wendy Winstead sold them to stars such as David Carradine and Dick Smothers. Dr. Winstead continued to promote them through television appearances and books until the 1990 when he died of cancer. Since then the calculated number of ferrets in American homes exceeds 800,000 as of 1996.
Ferrets are very energetic creatures, known to attempt to play a form of ferret tag with humans where they stalk, tackle the ankles or calves, and immediately taunt and scamper away. As kits (young ferrets), they often will play bite, but rarely break skin, and as they grow older, they can be taught not to bite humans.