Ferret

Mustela putorius furo

The ancestors of today's domestic ferrets ranged across Europe, Asia and North Africa, living in forests and thickets. They were domesticated as early as 2,400 years ago to hunt rabbits and eliminate farm and house pests. Ferrets are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat in order to survive.

A ferret's long, tubular body and flexible spine allow it to turn its body 180 degrees (a letter U shape). "To ferret out" something means to search intensely for it, like this animal does when hunting prey.

Ferret behavior and facts

  • The wild ancestors of domestic ferrets preyed on small mammals, especially rabbits, along with birds, reptiles, eggs, frogs and insects.
  • Domestic ferrets are playful, curious and intelligent.
  • They are nocturnal (active at night).
  • The ferret uses scent from its anal glands to mark its territory.

From birth to death

  • Gestation: 42 days
  • Offspring: usually 4 to 6
  • Lifespan: 6 to 8 years

Vital statistics

  • Length: 18 inches, plus a 6 inch tail
  • Weight:
    Males 3 to 5 pounds
    Females 1.5 to 3 pounds

Status

Not endangered

Ferrets, the Oregon Zoo and you

Ferrets are part of the zoo's education programs. They eat ferret chow. Domestic ferrets are common, but a North American relative, the black-footed ferret, is endangered.