The Ferret (Mustela putorius furo)

Etymology

Gee the mustelid family cop a bad deal with the root of all their names.

We’ve already seen that the word ‘ferret’ has its root in Latin and means thief.

And now, from what I’ve found on the Internet, Mustela Putorius Furo apparently translates to mean …

Mustela = mouse as long as a spear / mouse killer / mouse catcher

Putorius = bad smell / stench / smelly

Furo = thief

Our lovely ferret is a stinky little mouse killer thief.

There is another school of thought that says the ferret’s Latin name should be just plain Mustela furo, so no stinkiness attached to it, while yet another school declares our ferret to be Putorius furo.

* sigh * So confusing!!!

russian ferret

The above engraving is out of an encyclopedia dated 1909 which my grandmother brought out of Russia during the Revolution. It calls Putorius furo “Afrikanski horek” so could it mean that they used to think that the ferret originated from an African source? Who knows.

But they certainly have it pegged as a mouse killer, since the picture shows the albino with a mouse in its paws.

As far as the smell/stench label … I do admit it’s an acquired smell but for me, there is nothing more appealing that eau de furet. I often stick my head into my drawer full of weezuls and sniff deeply – I just love the smell

 

Origins of the Ferret

This one is pretty much still up-in-the-air.

Some say the ferret is descended from the Western/European Polecat (Mustela putorius) while others say ferrets come from the Siberian/Steppe Polecat (Mustela eversmanii). There is even a school of thought which claims the ferret’s ancestor is the Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes).

Fara Shimbo has a good comparison chart in her book, ‘The Behavior of the Domestic Ferret’

The plus for M. putorius is the fact that this animal is currently resident where the ferret was first domesticated. However the downside is that its behavior and morphology is markedly different.

“With M. eversmannii, their behavior is a lot more similar to the domestic ferrets but it only has 38 chromosomes, compared with the ferret’s 40 chromosomes, and it’s not currently present where the ferret was first domesticated.

And Philip Mortenson says in his book, ‘This is not a Weasel’

… the European polecat gave rise to the ferret of Europe, an animal long included in Mustela and often designated as M. p. furo. Authorities who dispute this reclassification contend that it is more likely that the European ferret had its origins in North Africa and is unconnected to the polecat, which they classify as Putorius furo. Still others speculate that ferrets were bred from the steppe polecat. But whatever its origins, most scientists feel that the ferret of Europe is an offshoot of some form of albino polecat, an animal with characteristic red albino eyes and a light, buff-colored coat. The ferret, about the size of the European polecat, has two litters a year, whereas the polecat only has one. Like the name ‘polecat’, ‘ferret’ has a similar origin, coming from the Old French fuiret, for ‘thief’.

And to confuse us plebs even further, Thierry Lodé, whose website is about researching the European Polecat claims …

“The Ferret M. putorius furo often largely albino, is a domestic form deriving from the Berber polecat (M. putorius berberii = furo).”

So – the jury is still out on the origins but I’m sure we can live with that question mark 😀

The Ferret throughout History

There is a surprising amount of information about our friend the ferret and I’ve collated what I could find on the Total Ferret Info page.

So, if you want to find out about Ferret Legging, or if Queen Victoria actually had ferrets, or how to say “Ferret” in Gaelic, then it would be a good place to start.


 


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