types of ferret
HOME · Biodiversity
animals

4 Types of Ferrets: Species, Facts and Photos

Ferrets, like dogs, are domesticated counterparts of their wild species. However, other species also have the same name, causing some confusion. This article clarifies the confusion and introduces various types of ferret pets, from a fluffy Angora to an Albino ferret.

Taxonomic Classification

The ferret belongs to the Mustelidae family and is a domesticated subspecies of the wild European polecat. Phylogenetic studies support this by connecting them to the North African lineage under this species1.

The European polecats, traced back to Western Europe 126,000 years ago, are closely linked to steppe polecats and the black-footed ferret. The following sections discuss the different variations of pet ferrets and their wild counterparts.

Read More: Ferret Facts.

4 Types of Ferrets And Similar Animals

1. Domestic Ferret (Mustela putorius furo)

Domestic Ferret
Photo by neusitas on Flickr licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Domestic ferrets' lineage dates back around 2,500 years. DNA studies affirm this, highlighting their long-standing relationship with humans. These creatures, distinguishable by their lean build, adeptly navigated burrows to chase down rodents, rabbits, and moles.

Due to their obligate carnivorous nature, ferrets' diets are an integral part of their lives. Their sustenance includes meat, organs, and even bones, which they consume relatively frequently due to their quick metabolism and short digestive systems.

Interestingly, laws governing ferret ownership differ regionally. Once prohibited in many US states, these laws relaxed in the 1980s and 1990s. However, areas like California still maintain this ban. Ferret owners should check their local laws before bringing one home.

Browse the following variations of domesticated ferret colors and patterns set by the American Ferret Association.

Basic Pet Ferret Colors

albino ferret
Photo by Valery91Thunder on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).
  • Albino ferrets have white or cream guard hair and undercoat, complemented by red or pink eyes and a pink nose. 
  • Black ferrets display black guard hair, a white undercoat, black eyes, and a nose ranging from black to speckled. 
  • Black Sable ferrets possess dark ash-colored guard hair, a white or cream undercoat, dark brown or near-black eyes, and a blackish-brown nose, sometimes speckled. 
  • Champagne ferrets are noted for their tan guard hair, a diluted version of chocolate, along with white or cream undercoat, burgundy eyes, and a beige or pink nose.
  • Chocolate ferrets have a warm brown shade in guard hair, white undercoat, brown or dark burgundy eyes, and noses ranging from pink to light brown.
  • Cinnamon ferrets carry light reddish-brown guard hair, white or slightly golden undercoat, and eyes that mimic the nose color of brick, beige, or pink, etching a 'T' outline.
  • Dark-Eyed White ferret bears white guard hair and undercoat, burgundy or black eyes and a pink nose.
  • Sable ferrets replicated the depth of warm brown in guard hair, wore a white, cream, or light golden undercoat paired with brown or near-black eyes, and varied shades of brown for the nose.

Basic Pet Ferret Patterns

  • Blaze ferrets boast a white stripe running down their neck, coupled with varied eye shades. These ferrets may also present roaning guard hair.
  • Mitt ferrets are defined by their white feet, contrasting leg color, and white bib.
  • Mutts display a medley of mismatched colors, lacking in a distinct pattern.
  • Panda ferrets possess an almost entirely white head with a burgundy gaze, and the body color is concentrated on the shoulders and hips.
  • Points carry a notable color contrast between their body and extremities, having a 'V' mask for certain colors.
  • Roan pattern ferrets have a balance of white and colored guard hairs evenly spread across the body, creating the roan pattern.
  • Solid ferrets demonstrate a full, consistent color and are void of white guard hairs, creating a solid appearance from head to tail.
  • Standard ferrets share characteristics with Solid ferrets. However, their point color is easily discernible due to less concentrated body color.
  • Striped ferrets harbor white guard hairs and some distinct colored spots or a stripe down the back.

Angora Ferrets

There are only two ferret breeds. All types mentioned above are under the standard breed. The second one is an Angora ferret.

These domesticated ferrets are attributed to a Swedish ferret breeder. The genetic deviation resulted in longer fur at the back. Another identifying feature is its extra nose fold. Unlike most ferrets, their undercoat matches their overcoat in length, presenting as longer guard hairs.

2. European Polecat (Mustela putorius)

European Polecat
Photo by Peter Trimming on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The European Polecat, known as common polecat and forest polecat, spans Europe. With human interference, it's scarce in the British Isles yet shows signs of a resurgence. It is also introduced to New Zealand. 

These creatures mostly inhabit the waterside, wetlands, forest fringes, or grasslands. In terms of physical attributes, males typically outsize females by up to twofold in both weight and length. These polecats sport an underfur of cream shade, guarded by black hairs. 

The change of season noticeably alters their coat. Winter hosts a glossy, smooth, and thick coat. Come summer, post-biannual molting, their coat thins and fades. An identifiable feature remains their dark, raccoon-esque eye mask contrasted with a white face and white-tipped ears. 

They are carnivores by nature, with rodents and rabbits dominating their food chain. Demonstrating commendable valor, it faces down rabbits, outsizing itself. Polecats also eat insects and fruit during times of food scarcity. An occasional menace to poultry farms: they kill and stock up well beyond their need. Their role in controlling the rodent population is indispensable.

3. Black-Footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes)

Black-Footed Ferret
Photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Black-footed ferrets, also called American polecats, are easily identified. Their fur is primarily yellowish-buff, with black feet giving them their name. They possess a white throat, forehead, and muzzle and bear a black mask around their eyes, especially when young.

Regarding diet, prairie dogs are a top menu choice. Occasionally, they might opt for mice or ground squirrels if food is scarce.

Black-Footed Ferrets are endangered2, a mix of limited, dwindling population and habitat decline. In the past, central North America was their home. In 2015, only four places had sustainable populations, and out of roughly 295 wild adult ferrets, only 206 lived without human aid.

Reintroduction attempts have played a vital role in their survival. From 1991 to 2009, efforts to reintroduce them to the wild were undertaken in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, with varying success rates. Constant care is vital for these fragile populations.

4. Steppe Polecat (Mustela eversmanni)

Steppe Polecat
Photo by Jan Dušek on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

Steppe Polecats, or White Polecats, are native to central and western Europe and most of central Asia. Their terrain comprises moderate dry habitats - steppes, semi-deserts, pastures, and cultivated fields.

These types of ferret-like animals are straw-yellow or pale brown. Look for a dark dorsal pelage that turns lighter as you trace down their ventral side. These creatures operate primarily at night – a characteristic defining their nocturnal nature.

Food for ferrets includes birds, reptiles, insects, and fruit. However, rodents are their staple. They also store the carcass of their prey in burrows for future consumption.

1

Sato, J. J., Hosoda, T., Wolsan, M., Tsuchiya, K., Yamamoto, M., & Suzuki, H. (2003). Phylogenetic Relationships and Divergence Times among Mustelids (Mammalia: Carnivora) Based on Nucleotide Sequences of the Nuclear Interphotoreceptor Retinoid Binding Protein and Mitochondrial CytochromebGenes. Zoological Science, 20(2), 243–264.

2

Belant, J., Biggins, D., Garelle, D., Griebel, R.G. & Hughes, J.P. (2015). Mustela nigripes. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T14020A45200314. 

By Mike Gomez, BA.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Photo by GuilleNeT on Pixabay.
Pin Me:
Pin Image Portrait 4 Types of Ferrets: Species, Facts and Photos
Sign Up for Updates
SIGN UP