/fer"it/, n.1. a domesticated, usually red-eyed, and albinic variety of the polecat, used in Europe for driving rabbits and rats from their burrows.2. See black-footed ferret.v.t.3. to drive out by using or as if using a ferret (often fol. by out): to ferret rabbits from their burrows; to ferret out enemies.4. to hunt with ferrets.5. to hunt over with ferrets: to ferret a field.6. to search out, discover, or bring to light (often fol. by out): to ferret out the facts.7. to harry, worry, or torment: His problems ferreted him day and night.v.i.8. to search about.[1350-1400; ME fer(r)et(te), fyret, furet < MF furet < VL *furittus, equiv. to fur thief ( < L) + -ittus -ET]ferret2/fer"it/, n.a narrow tape or ribbon, as of silk or cotton, used for binding, trimming, etc.[1570-80; alter. of It fioretto floss silk, lit., little flower, equiv. to fior(e) ( < L florem; see FLOWER) + -etto -ET]
* * *Either of two species in the carnivore family Mustelidae.The common ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is a domesticated form of the European polecat. It has a long, lithe body and is brown, black, or white (albino). Its average length is 20 in. (51 cm), including the 5-in. (13-cm) tail, and it weighs about 2 lbs (1 kg). It was originally domesticated for hunting mice, rats, and rabbits; today ferrets are commonly kept as pets. The black-footed ferret (M. nigripes), of the North American plains, has a black mask across the eyes and brownish black markings on the feet and tail tip. It is an endangered species, owing to the loss of its main source of food, the prairie dog.
* * *▪ mammalIntroductionalso called fitcheteither of two species of carnivore, the common ferret and the black-footed ferret, belonging to the weasel family (Mustelidae (mustelid)).Common ferretThe common ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is a domesticated form of the European polecat, which it resembles in size and habits and with which it interbreeds. The common ferret differs in having yellowish white (sometimes brown) fur and pinkish red eyes. The common ferret is also slightly smaller than the polecat, averaging 51 cm (20 inches) in length, including the 13-cm tail. It weighs about 1 kg (2 pounds).Ferrets are popular pets and are commonly used in veterinary research. In captivity they become tame and playful and remain inquisitive. Although ferrets are adaptable, their dependence on humans becomes such that they are unable to survive without care and if lost often die within a few days. Ferrets can subsist on a diet of water and meat similar to that given the domestic cat. Easily bred in captivity, females bear two litters of six or seven young each year. Because common ferrets are subject to foot rot, their cages must be kept scrupulously clean.Ferreting, the use of ferrets to drive rabbits (rabbit), rats, and other vermin from their underground burrows, has been practiced since Roman times in Europe and even longer in Asia. In the case of rabbits, for example, a ferret is released into rabbit burrows to flush them into waiting nets or traps. The ferret's long tubular body and short limbs, as well as its aggressive hunting, make it ideal for this function.Black-footed ferretThe black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) of the American Great Plains is an endangered species. The black-footed ferret resembles the common ferret in colour but has a black mask across the eyes and brownish black markings on the feet and the tail's tip. It weighs a kilogram or less, males being slightly larger than females. Body length is 38–50 cm (15–20 inches), with a tail 11–15 cm.Black-footed ferrets live in prairie-dog (prairie dog) burrows and eat only prairie dogs, both as prey and as carrion. They were originally found living among prairie-dog populations ranging from southern Canada through the American West to northern Mexico. As prairie dogs were largely eliminated by the development of agriculture in the Great Plains, ferrets very nearly went extinct. By 1987 the last members of a remaining population of 18 animals were captured from the wild in Wyoming. A captive breeding program was begun, and since 1991 groups have been reintroduced to native habitats in Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Chihuahua state, Mexico. The success of the reintroduction program ultimately will depend on the preservation of prairie-dog habitats.Black-footed ferrets are solitary except during the breeding season in March and April. Births occur in May and June, and females raise the young (kits) alone. Three kits are the norm, but litters range from one to six. Young are born in a modified burrow and emerge in July to become independent in September or October, at which time the young, especially males, usually disperse. Sexual maturity is attained after a year. Longevity in the wild is not known, but captive animals may live up to 12 years. Ferrets are hunted by golden eagles and great horned owls, as well as by other carnivores such as coyotes and badgers. Poisons used to control prairie dogs, especially sodium monofluoroacetate (commonly called 1080) and strychnine, probably contribute to deaths when the ferrets eat poisoned prairie dogs. Moreover, black-footed ferrets are extremely susceptible to many infectious diseases such as canine distemper. Bubonic plague can severely reduce populations of prairie dogs and thus cause food shortages for black-footed ferrets, but it is unknown whether ferrets themselves contract plague.
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