13 Fun Facts About Ferrets

iStock.com/JuergenBosse
iStock.com/JuergenBosse

Happy National Ferret Day! In honor of the holiday, brush up on your knowledge about everyone's favorite (and longest) polecat-like pet.

1. Ferrets have been domesticated for a quite a while.


Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

It is unclear exactly when ferrets were first domesticated, but the critters have a long and storied history. Greek scholars—Aristophanes in 450 BCE and Aristotle in 350 BCE—wrote about a ferret-like animal. Some lore asserts that ancient Egyptians even kept them as pets, but the absence of ferret bones in explored tombs casts doubt on that claim. Remains have been found in a medieval castle in Belgium, but there is no mention of the pets in any contemporary writings. It's also possible that the ferret was exclusively a lower-class pet, which would explain the lack of documentation.

In the late 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci painted Cecilia Gallerani holding a weasel-like creature. Although the animal has been dubbed an ermine, many scholars believe the animal is actually a ferret.

2. They are related to polecats.


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Ferrets are the domesticated subspecies of European polecats. They can easily interbreed to produce offspring that are very similar to domestic ferrets.

3. When threatened, ferrets will dance.

In the wild, ferrets and stoats perform a hypnotic dance that sends their prey into a trance. Domestic ferrets also perform this dance, but they use it for play instead of hunting. They arch their backs, puff their tails, and move from side to side. This rug-cutting is usually a sign that the ferret is happy and having fun.

4. Black-footed ferrets almost exclusively eat prairie dogs.


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Wild black-footed ferrets, or American polecats, live in central North America and feast on unsuspecting prairie dogs. Scientists discovered that in South Dakota, 91 percent of the black-footed ferret's diet consisted of prairie dogs [PDF].

Unfortunately, their main source of food has bigger problems than being eaten: The Black Death. The plague is no longer a worry for most humans, but it has a tendency to wipe out whole colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs. This threat is a real issue for the endangered black-footed ferrets, which perish without their favorite food. Luckily researchers have found a vaccine that could help keep the tiny rodents healthy. Testing is currently underway to see if the vaccine works in the wild.

5. A group of ferrets is called a business.


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Now that’s a professional pet!

6. Ferrets can be used to hunt rabbits.

Rabbit hunting with ferrets is a popular sport in England. The ferrets run into rabbit holes to run the prey out of hiding. When the rabbits dash from their homes, human hunters trap them in nets. The tiny hunters wear ferret finder collars so that if they corner a rabbit underground, their owners can come to their rescue with a shovel. 

7. They can team up with falcons.


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Falconers employ ferrets in a similar role; the only difference is that the ferrets are used to bring the prey to the falcons. The two animals make a great hunting team.

8. Some ferrets have jobs.


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Known for their love of burrowing, ferrets can put their skill at running through pipes to a variety of professional uses. When wires cannot be pushed through tubes or tunnels with rods, the tiny critters can step in. They are known for pulling wire through underground tunnels, and even helped lay wire for London's Party in the Park concert im 1999.

One famous ferret named Felicia helped clean pipes at Fermilab's Meson Laboratory in 1971. A swab connected to her collar allowed her to clear away unwanted debris. Although Felicia only cost $35, she likely saved the lab thousands of dollars.

9. Ferret racing is a popular sport.

Ferret racing is a popular sport in London that involves competing ferrets racing through drainpipes. A small section of the pipe is removed and replaced with chicken wire so viewers can know when the pets are half-way through. Apparently, the animals thoroughly enjoy the games, and the company of their fellow ferrets.

10. Scammers have sold ferrets on steroids as fancy poodles.

If you are looking to get a tiny exotic dog, make sure you’re not actually buying a ferret. In 2013, some Argentineans were being tricked into buying fake miniature poodles. Ferrets were given steroids and new haircuts before being passed off as tiny purebred dogs. The owners often didn’t realize they had accidentally bought drugged ferrets until visiting the vet for shots.

11. Females can die if they go too long without mating.


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Unspayed females need to mate or run the risk of producing too much estrogen. The overproduction can lead to estrogen toxicity, or hyperestrogenism. This condition can lead to anemia, clotting, and death.

12. Scientists fiddled with a ferret’s brain and made a startling discovery.


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In the 1990s, neuroscientists at MIT reconfigured baby ferrets' brains so that the critters' retinas were connected to their auditory cortexes. They expected the ferrets to go blind, but miraculously, they readjusted so that the auditory cortex worked like the visual cortex; they could see using the part of the brain normally used for hearing. This discovery showed that the brain is adaptable and makes use of what’s available. ''It's just waiting for signals from the environment and will wire itself according to the input it gets,'' Dr. Jon Kaas, a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University, told The New York Times in 2000.

13. They love to jump.

But sometimes they land in some unfortunate places.

This article originally ran in 2015.

A Same-Sex Penguin Couple Has Adopted an Egg at a Berlin Zoo

LisaStratchan/iStock via Getty Images
LisaStratchan/iStock via Getty Images

At first glance, king penguins Skip and Ping don’t appear to be too remarkable a sight when viewed by spectators at their enclosure at Germany's Zoo Berlin. But look closer and you may see one of them nurturing an egg under one of their skin folds. Skip and Ping, a same-sex penguin couple, have effectively adopted an egg and hope to raise it as their own baby.

A story by writer Liam Stack in The New York Times details their pursuit of parenthood. According to Stack, the penguins arrived at Zoo Berlin in April and were observed to have a degree of baby fever, trying to coddle everything from a rock to a fish. Taking note of their coupling, zookeepers passed on an unhatched egg laid by a female at the zoo. They immediately took to it, taking protective measures and growing ornery when employees got too close. Ping has taken to sitting on the egg in the hopes it will hatch.

That’s not guaranteed. Zookeepers aren't certain whether the egg was fertilized. If it is, it’s likely to crack open in early September, giving Skip and Ping an opportunity to expand their family.

Earlier this year, a same-sex penguin pair named Sphen and Magic began rearing a chick in Australia’s Sea Life Sydney Aquarium. The doting parents sang to and fed their adoptive offspring.

[h/t The New York Times]

Airlines Are No Longer Allowed to Ban Service Dogs Based on Breed

chaivit/iStock via Getty Images
chaivit/iStock via Getty Images

As the species of service and emotional support animals have become more diverse, airlines have had to make some tough decisions. Birds, monkeys, and snakes have been barred from boarding airplanes with passengers, but even more conventional pets like dogs have been rejected based on their breed. A new rule from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) aims to change that. As Travel + Leisure reports, the agency now forbids airlines from discriminating against service dogs of particular breeds, including pit bulls.

Last year, Delta banned all pit bulls from flying, regardless of whether or not they were certified therapy animals. United Airlines also banned pit bulls last year, along with 20 other dog breeds, including pugs, bulldogs, mastiffs, and shih tzus.

Under the new DOT guidelines, these policies are no longer legal. The statement reads: "The Department’s Enforcement Office views a limitation based exclusively on breed of the service animal to not be allowed under its service animal regulation. The Enforcement Office intends to use available resources to ensure that dogs as a species are accepted for transport."

The new rule applies specifically to service animals, or animals that have been trained to perform a job that's essential to their owner's wellbeing. Emotional support animals, which don't require special training and aren't covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act, don't qualify.

Even if a pet is a certified service animal, airlines still have the right to reject them in certain cases. Air travel companies can request documents related to an animal's vaccination, training, or behavior history. If they find anything in the papers that indicates they're not safe to fly, airlines can turn them away on that basis.

In the same statement, the Department of Transportation clarifies which species of service animals should be allowed on flights. Miniature horses are now included on the list of service animals airlines must allow to fly, while ferrets, rodents, snakes, reptiles, and spiders are the only species airlines can ban outright.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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