PNG images: Ferret

The ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is the domesticated form of the European polecat, a mammal belonging to the same genus as the weasel, Mustela of the family Mustelidae. They typically have brown, black, white, or mixed fur. They have an average length of 51 cm (20 in) including a 13 cm (5.1 in) tail, weigh about 1.5–4 pounds (0.7–2 kg), and have a natural lifespan of 7 to 10 years. Ferrets are sexually dimorphic predators with males being substantially larger than females.

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Several other Mustelids also have the word ferret in their common names, including an endangered species, the black-footed ferret.

The history of the ferret's domestication is uncertain, like that of most other domestic animals, but it is likely that ferrets have been domesticated for at least 2,500 years. They are still used for hunting rabbits in some parts of the world, but increasingly, they are kept only as pets.

Being so closely related to polecats, ferrets easily hybridise with them, and this has occasionally resulted in feral colonies of polecat-ferret hybrids that have caused damage to native fauna, especially in New Zealand. As a result, some parts of the world have imposed restrictions on the keeping of ferrets.

Ferrets have a typical Mustelid body-shape being long and slender. Their average length is about 50 cm including a 13-cm tail. Their pelage has various colorations including brown, black, white or mixed. They weigh between 0.7 kg to 2.0 kg and are sexually dimorphic as the males are substantially larger than females. The average gestation period is 42 days and females may have 2 or 3 litters each year. The litter size is usually between 3 and 7 kits which are weaned after 3 to 6 weeks and become independent at 3 months. They become sexually mature at approximately 6 months and the average life span is 7 to 10 years.

Ferrets spend 14–18 hours a day asleep and are most active around the hours of dawn and dusk, meaning they are crepuscular. Unlike their polecat ancestors, which are solitary animals, most ferrets will live happily in social groups. A group of ferrets is commonly referred to as a "business". They are territorial, like to burrow, and prefer to sleep in an enclosed area.

Like many other mustelids, ferrets have scent glands near their anus, the secretions from which are used in scent marking. Ferrets can recognise individuals from these anal gland secretions, as well as the sex of unfamiliar individuals. Ferrets may also use urine marking for sex and individual recognition.

As with skunks, ferrets can release their anal gland secretions when startled or scared, but the smell is much less potent and dissipates rapidly. Most pet ferrets in the US are sold de-scented (anal glands removed). In many other parts of the world, including the UK and other European countries, de-scenting is considered an unnecessary mutilation.

If excited, they may perform a behaviour called the "weasel war dance", characterised by frenzied sideways hops, leaps and bumping into nearby objects. Despite its common name, it is not aggressive but is a joyful invitation to play. It is often accompanied by a unique soft clucking noise, commonly referred to as "dooking". When scared, ferrets will hiss; when upset, they squeak softly.