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The ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is the domesticated form of the European Polecat, a mammal belonging to the weasel genus of the family Mustelidae. They typically have brown, black, white, or mixed fur. They have an average length of 20 inches (51 cm) including a 5 inch (13 cm) tail, weigh about 1.5–4 pounds (0.7–2 kg), and have a natural lifespan of 7 to 10 years. Ferrets are sexually dimorphic predators with males being substantially larger than females.
Several other Mustelids also have the word ferret in their common names, including an endangered species, the Black-footed Ferret.
The history of the ferret's domestication is uncertain, like that of most other domestic animals, but it is likely that ferrets have been domesticated for at least 2,500 years. They are still used for hunting rabbits in some parts of the world today, but increasingly they are kept simply as pets.
Being so closely related to polecats, ferrets are quite easily able to hybridize with them, and this has occasionally resulted in feral colonies of polecat-ferret hybrids that have caused damage to native fauna, perhaps most notably in New Zealand. As a result, some parts of the world have imposed restrictions on the keeping of ferrets.
As described by the Oakland Zoo,
Ferrets have a long and slender body covered with brown, black, white, or mixed fur ... Average length is 20 inches including a 5-inch tail. They weigh 1.5 to 4 pounds, with males substantially larger than females ... Gestation is 42 days, litters are usually 3 to 7 young, but sometimes more. Females may have two to three litters annually. Young are weaned after 3 to 6 weeks and become independent at 3 months. Sexual maturity may come at 6 months. Average life span is 8 years.
—Conservation and Education: Oakland Zoo
Ferrets are crepuscular, which means they spend 14–18 hours a day asleep and are most active around the hours of dawn and dusk. Unlike their polecat ancestors, which are solitary animals, most ferrets will live happily in social groups. A group of ferrets is commonly referred to as a "business". They are territorial, like to burrow, and prefer to sleep in an enclosed area.
Like many other mustelids, ferrets have scent glands near their anus, the secretions from which are used in scent marking. It has been reported that ferrets can recogn