1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ferret

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FERRET, a domesticated, and frequently albino breed of quadruped, derived from the wild polecat (Putorius foetidus, or P. putorius), which it closely resembles in size, form, and habits, and with which it interbreeds. It differs in the colour of its fur, which is usually yellowish-white, and of its eyes, which are pinky-red. The “polecat-ferret” is a brown breed, apparently the product of the above-mentioned cross. The ferret attains a length of about 14 in., exclusive of the tail, which measures 5 in. Although exhibiting considerable tameness, it seems incapable of attachment, and when not properly fed, or when irritated, is apt to give painful evidence of its ferocity. It is chiefly employed in destroying rats and other vermin, and in driving rabbits from their burrows. The ferret is remarkably prolific, the female bringing forth two broods annually, each numbering from six to nine young. It is said to occasionally devour its young immediately after birth, and in this case produces another brood soon after. The ferret was well known to the Romans, Strabo stating that it was brought from Africa into Spain, and Pliny that it was employed in his time in rabbit-hunting, under the name Viverra; the English name is not derived from this, but from Fr. furet, Late Lat. furo, robber. The date of its introduction into Great Britain is uncertain, but it has been known in England for at least 600 years.

The ferret should be kept in dry, clean, well-ventilated hutches, and fed twice daily on bread, milk, and meat, such as rabbits’ and fowls’ livers. When used to hunt rabbits it is provided with a muzzle, or, better and more usual, a cope, made by looping and knotting twine about the head and snout, in order to prevent it killing its quarry, in which case it would gorge itself and go to sleep in the hole. As the ferret enters the hole the rabbits flee before it, and are shot or caught by dogs as they break ground. A ferret’s hold on its quarry is as obstinate as that of a bulldog, but can easily be broken by a strong pressure of the thumb just above the eyes. Only full-grown ferrets are “worked to” rats. Several are generally used at a time and without copes, as rats are fierce fighters.

See Ferrets, by Nicholas Everitt (London, 1897).