Did you know that the domesticated ferret’s direct descendant is actually the European Polecat?

Domesticated Ferret

Domesticated Ferret

European polecat

European (wild) Polecat

The latin name for the European Polecat is “Mustela Puturious” and the latin name for the Domesticated Ferret is, “Mustela Putorious Furo”. The addition of the latin word “furo” to the European Polecat’s latin name is all the more evidence that ferrets are their direct descendants.  “Furo” was added to distinguish the two animals and it actually comes from the Latin word, meaning, “little thief”. ‘Furo’ was added on by the Romans according to the reliable resources.

For additional information, the ferret’s scientific classification is:
– Kingdom: Animalia
– Phylum: Chordata
– Class: Mammalia
– Order: Obligate Carnivora
– Family: Mustelidae
– Genus: Mustela
– Species: Mustela Putorious [Polecat] and add on “Furo” [Domesticated Ferret]


Just a Mustelidae family example. Not all Mustelids are included.

Where does the word “polecat” and “ferret” come from anyway?  Regarding “polecat”, one theory connects the word or name with the French words “poule” (meaning chicken) and “chat” (cat), and we have to admit (especially us raw feeders) that polecats and ferrets alike are partial to a plump and juicy chicken at feeding time.

“Ferret”, according to the dictionary means, to drive out, to search out, discover, or bring to light..”

It may come as a surprise to a few ferret lovers and owners to learn, especially in the United States that there’s approximately 5 – 7 million household pet ferrets that were recorded in the latest census poll (2013). Their attraction is because they are naturally friendly, brave, fearless, talkative, indefatigably curious, and playful, as well as quite prepared to accept humans. They don’t ‘fawn’ like some dogs and they’re not aloof as some cats. They just don’t complain in any form. Just unconditional love. They’re very independent, amiable, and highly individual critters.

Acceptance and the lack of fearfulness of humans demonstrate their long line of domestication. I’ve read that their domestication goes back as far as 2,000 years.  Some claim ferrets were domesticated as far back as the B.C. era to control snakes, but that was more likely to be the ‘Mongoose’.  Though there’s a resemblance to ferrets, the mongoose is a completely different species [“Herpestidae”, native to Africa and Eurasia].

The Domesticated Ferret is a species that humans have, for many, many, decades or even centuries, brought under their control.  This all began with the Polecat (Mustela Putorious).

Old ferreting photoIn European countries (mainly the United Kingdom), ferrets are used a ferret to chase animals from their burrows (mostly rabbits)…this sport of hunting is called, ‘Ferreting’. (Note, this sport is banned completely in all of the United States, (federally banned). Ferrets have also been used to control mice and rats. They could go in spaces onboard Colonial ships, for example, where cats could not, quickly making them the vermin control of choice. (Note: this was the manner in which ferrets came to America in the beginning).

There has been and to this day, royals as well as those of celebrity status who own ferrets.130019_1  Many clergyman have, in the past, been ferreters.  Internet investigation reveals there are quite few celebrity owners of ferrets, and their population is rapidly growing.  Some celebrities are Paris Hilton, Jennifer Aniston, Tori Spelling, even Reese Witherspoon supposedly just added two ferrets to her large animal collection, and don’t forget the huge ferret fan, Harry Anderson (from ‘Cheers’).

Further, in a perspective of history, a ferret-like animal was mentioned by Greek authors Aristophanes in 450 BC and Aristotle, in 350 BC. Though historical confirmation cannot be clear as references are missing from historical records because an exact description of the animal is missing. Somewhere between 63 BC and 24 AD, the Greek philosopher and historian, Strabo, wrote of a plague of rabbits in the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean which, at that time, were causing a famine. Pliny (a roman author, naturalist, as well as an army and navy commander for the Roman Empire, in AD 23-79 wrote extensively of the use and keeping of ferrets, as did Saint Isidore of Seville, Roman Archbishop, historian, and said to be considered, “the last philosopher of the ancient world, also wrote in AD 600 of ferrets being used to hunt rabbits. Ferrets may also have been kept around households to control rodents, but the majority of references relate to ferrets and rabbits. Additionally, there are very known paintings of Queen Elisabeth I (of England and Ireland) (below)elizabethermine410483_7d07_625x1000Ladywerminewas known to keep ferrets.  Also, worth consideration is a common misconception is that she kept a stoat, but stoats can’t be handled and are NOT domesticated.

By the 1200’s ferrets had spread throughout much of the other European countries, and there are stories that Genghis Khan (China) used ferrets in conquests in Afghanistan in 1221.

The first references to the Domesticated Ferret in England are in 1223 and again in 1281 where a ferreter was listed as part of the Royal Court. Other interesting bits of information from England in the late 1200’s to the late 1300’s include the fact that one needed an annual income of forty shillings to own a ferret and that ferrets were owned by high-ranking church officials. King Richard II issued a decree in 1384 allowing one of his clerks to hunt rabbits with ferrets and again in 1390 prohibiting the use of ferrets on Sunday.

Also, there is much evidence that Roman soldiers routinely used ferrets in hunting rabbits and when possible, as companions. Ferrets may have spread to the northern European continent during the spread of the Roman Empire, or as others have suggested they may have spread with Norman invasions.  This history is still debated and unknown as there isn’t many historical records.

Either way you spin it, analyze it, or read about it, there is NO question that the Domesticated Ferret has been a part of human life for a very, very long time, and the thanks goes to the ever-beautiful European Polecat, the ferret’s direct descendant.  Then and now, regarding their welfare, I always say…”Ferrets are just too cute for their own good”.


– Ferrets for Dummies 2nd ed, Kim Schilling, Wiley Publishing, Inc.

– The Complete Book of Ferrets, Val Porter & Nicholas Brown, D & M Publications

– Ferret Husbandry, Medicine, and Surgery 2nd ed., John H. Lewington, Saunders and Elsevier Publishing, Inc.

– Ferrets and Ferreting, Graham Wellstead, T.F.H. Publications, Inc.

– Find Out About Ferrets, Colin Patterson, John Alexander Enterprises, Inc.

(Researched and Written by Brian Carr)


Brian Carr

Brian Carr

Website and Facebook Group Forum Moderator/Administrator at Ferret Information and Friendships
In all modesty, I'm a writer, a Disabled American Veteran who is Medically Retired from the United States Navy, a single father of two young teenagers, and I'm owned by four ferrets.I moderate/admin numerous sites to include the American Ferret Association Yahoo forum (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/AmericanFerretAssociation/info), Ferret Information and Friendships on all social media, as well as videography on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7FT9crt1YEZGzUMCZVuXdw), Ferret Care & Support (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1490305757899892/), and Weezel! (https://www.facebook.com/groups/Weezle/) on Facebook.I have exclusively kept ferrets since 1992.I currently have a four ferrets.If in the event you need to contact me, please email me at ferretsrlife@yahoo.com.

With Kind Regards,
Brian K. Carr
Brian Carr

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