Ferrets (Mustela furo), are one of the cutest little furry animals, kept as domestic pets by many people. They are often characterized by their long, slender bodies and long tails, and they can vary in body size and weight. From a slender ‘whippet‘ type body shape, to the more blocky ‘bulldog‘ type shape. They can be curious and investigative
The domestic ferret can be found all over the world, and are sometimes mistaken for other animals. To some, ferrets can be mistaken for rodents, but in actual fact, ferrets and weasels, are sometimes used in pest control because of their ability to kill rodents. They are far more animals that look like ferrets within members of the same family ‘Mustelidae’.
Mustelidae are a family of carnivorous mammals, characterized by their long and slender body, short legs, and long and slender tail. Within the family of mustelidae, there are 66-70 species across nine subfamilies in total.
They don’t all look like ferrets, badgers for example are much bigger and easy to tell apart from a ferret. However, many of them do look alike, particularly those of the mustela genus.
Here are a selection of some of the animals that look like ferrets, from the genus mustela and beyond.
Animals that look like Ferrets
Weasel (Mustela Nivalis)
Ferrets often get confused with the weasel. In comparison, weasels are not as long as ferrets. In fact the weasel is the smallest member of the Mustelid family and Britain’s smallest carnivore. They prefer a different habitat to ferrets including marshes, while ferrets prefer grasslands.
Weasels are also much more aggressive than ferrets, which is one of the reasons you don’t often see weasels as pets!
Weasels vary in length, but generally, male weasels measure around 20 – 22 centimetres long and have a tail length of 6.5 centimetres and female weasels measure around 15 – 18 centimetres long and have a tail length of 4.5 centimetres. The average weasel weighs about 198 grams (7 ounces)
Black Foot Ferret (Mustela Nigripes)
The black foot ferret is the most similar animal out there to the domestic ferret. They were once thought to be extinct, but in 1981, a small population was discovered in Wyoming, and a captive breeding program was introduced. They are the only type of ferret native to North America.
Black-footed ferrets weigh around 2 pounds and are about 18 inches long. These ferrets have a distinct appearance with sooty black outlines on their feet, ears, parts of the face and its tail. Their base color is pale yellowish or buffy above and below and the top of the head and sometimes the neck is clouded by dark-tipped hairs. A black mask can be seen around the eyes, and they have short, stout legs.
They are very similar to domestic ferrets in appearance, but they are wild, far from cute in nature and would not make good pets.
There are eight species of Marten in the genus martes, which belongs to the mustelidae family. Of these eight species, the Pine Marten (Martes martes) is the type specimen. In general, martens have bushy tails and large paws, and their fur varies in color depending on the species, from yellowish to dark brown.
The Pine Marten for example, has light to dark brown fur and yellow/cream throat patches which can look like a ‘bib’. Their fur grows longer and silkier during the winter months. This species distributed throughout most of West Europe, with local pockets in the UK, Corsica, Sicily, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands. They also occur in Central Asia.
They are of a similar size and shape to ferrets. The male Pine Marten has a body length of 51 – 54 centimetres, a tail length of 26 – 27 centimetres and weigh 1.5 – 2.2 kilograms. The female Pine Marten has a body length of 46 – 54 centimetres, a tail length of 18 – 24 centimetres and weighs 0.9 – 1.5 kilograms.
Martens are the only mustelids with semi-retractable claws. This enables them to lead more arboreal lifestyles, such as climbing or running on tree branches,
Polecat (Mustela Putorius)
The Polecat, or more precisely the European Polecat, is very similar in appearance to the ferret. In fact, the polecat is an ancestor to the ferret, but it is still unclear when ferrets were originally domesticated. Interbreeding between the species occurs both in the wild and in breeding programmes where hybridization has been trialled in an attempt to improve the genetic pool.
Polecats are about the same size as a ferret. Male polecats measure 55 centimetres in length with a tail length of 20 centimetres. Female polecats measure 50 centimetres in length and have a tail length of 16 centimetres. Both male and female polecats are similar in appearance.
They may look cute like ferrets, but wild polecats are just that, wild. They have different behaviour traits and are solitary in nature. They emit a pungent musky odour from scent glands located at the base of their tails to mark their territory and particularly when threatened. Not a feature that is great for a domestic household!
Mink (Mustela Lutreola and Neovison Vison)
Mink, are another long, furry animal of the mustelidae family that look like a ferret. There are two types of mink. The American mink, (Neovison vison) and the European Mink (Mustela lutreola). Both look very similar to each other, but the American mink is slightly smaller.
Mink are bigger than domestic ferrets, averaging around 55 cm (22 inches) in length. They are most famous for their very attractive fur, which has unfortunately for them, been an item of great desire in the fur trade for centuries.
While the similarities with the ferret are many, the closest relative to the semi-aquatic European mink, is actually the Siberian weasel.
The American mink is seen as a pest and an invasive species in parts of Europe, where it has an impact on the European mink populations.
European Otter (Lutra Lutra)
There are 13 types of otter in the subfamily Lutrinae, but the Eurasian or European Otter (Lutra lutra) is the type specimen. They have long, slinky bodies and short legs, similar to ferrets, but otters are made for the water and across all the species, they are either aquatic or semi-aquatic. They are strongly territorial and generally live alone for most of the time.
Otters are generally larger than ferrets. Even the smallest – the Asian small-clawed otters, measure around 60 cm while the largest, Giant Otter can measure up to 180 cm! It can be remarkable to watch an otter catching fish and swimming in a river, traits that set it apart from a ferret. They have even been known to steal fish off the line of fishermen.
While they may be cute and fascinating to observer, they are wild and solitary animals, best left alone.
Wolverine (Gulo Gulo)
Wolverines have short, thick legs and a round, blunt head with a short, pointed snout. From a picture of the head, they may look very similar to a ferret. Their bodies are much bigger though. They have a more heavyset, muscular body which measures 65 – 105 centimetres (26 – 41 inches) in length excluding the tail. They weigh around 9 – 17 kilograms (22 – 36 pounds).
Wolverines have thick, dark brown body fur with long glossy hairs and a lighter colored stripe running the entire length of each side of their body. The patterns on the face, neck, and chest are entirely unique to the individual.
While domestic ferrets are social animals, the wolverine is a solitary animal who usually travels alone except for the breeding season. The family resemblance is mostly noticeable in the face. While both species are of the family Mustelidae, the ferret is of the genus Mustela and the Wolverine is of the genus Gulo.
You wouldn’t want to get too close to one in the wild, their claws are known to be powerful enough to take down a deer!
Stoat (Mustela Erminea)
Stoats are very recognisable members of the Mustela family, similar to both ferrets and weasels. They have a distinctive black tip to their tail. Stoats also have a long, slender, cylindrical body and neck, short legs and a long tail.
The Stoat has an average head and body length of between 16 and 31 centimetres and stoats in Britain can weigh from 90 to 445 grams. Male stoats usually measure 29 centimetres with a tail length of 11 centimetres and females around 26 centimetres with a 9 centimetre tail length. This makes them slightly smaller than the average common ferret, but larger than weasels.
Their fur is very distinctive in comparison to that of a ferret. It is a chestnut brown in summer, with a lighter underparts. In winter, in the north regions of North America and tundra areas, their fur becomes thicker and turns white, this is when they are referred to as Ermine or as being ‘in ermine’.