While ferrets come in lots of colors and patterns, the domestic variety comes in one basic breed. Your pet ferret descends from the European polecat. Unlike canines, ferrets aren't available in all sizes. Males weigh about 2.5 pounds at maturity, while the much smaller female weighs approximately 1.5 pounds. Ferrets pack a lot of mischief and fun into those little bodies.
The wild and rare black-footed ferret is also known as the American polecat. In addition to his namesake black feet, this ferret also boasts a black eye mask, black tail tip, brown top coat and cream undercoat. Black-footed ferrets were almost driven to extinction when their primary prey, prairie dogs, were wiped out by ranchers and farmers. Some remaining animals were captured and bred in captivity and are slowing being reintroduced into prairie-dog rich areas in the West.
The domestic ferret, or Mustela putorius, still has many of the instincts of its wild ancestors, but its coloring has been influenced by human breeding. The American Ferret Association's breed standard includes a triangular head, with its muzzle accounting for approximately 55 percent. Ferrets are long and low, designed for burrowing after prey. The tail is about one-third the length of the body. The AFA points out that the ferret’s musculo-skeletal anatomy is characterized by strength and flexibility. Don't let the ferret's small size fool you -- he's much stronger than he appears.
According to the AFA, color has a specific meaning, as it refers to the shade of the animal's guard hair and undercoat, along with the nose and eyes. Sable, the most common color in ferrets, refers to a dark brown top coat with a lighter undercoat. Other colors include black; black sable, a black/brown top coat with a white undercoat; silver; cinnamon, a reddish-brown hue; albino, which includes white or cream; chocolate; and champagne, a tan or light brown shade.
Patterns and Markings
In addition to colors, ferrets can have specific markings or patterns. A mitt means the chest and feet are white. If the ferret only has the white chest but not white feet, that's a marking. Other markings include white tail tips or eye rings. Patterns include a white blaze on the face; Siamese, much like the feline, with darker points on the feet and tail than the body; roan, many white hairs on a darker base coat and panda, or an almost totally white head.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.