Monday, 12 September 2011


Black-footed ferret by USFWS Mountain Prairie

The latest issue of the Journal of Mammalogy is all about ferrets!

Well, it isn't all about ferrets, but does have a special feature on the reintroduction of black-footed ferrets into the wild.

This is "the wild" in America, of course. In Australia and New Zealand most people are trying to get ferrets out of the wild, but if you were looking at the eradication of ferrets as an invasive species, it might be interesting to see what scientists have to say in environments where people are trying to conserve them.

The Journal of Mammalogy is a journal of the American Society of Mammalogists, which "promotes interest in mammals throughout the world by the publication of original and timely research on all aspects of the biology of mammals; e.g., ecology, genetics, conservation, behavior, and physiology."

We subscribe to this journal in print, as well as online, although the print copy is only available in Townsville. The latest, ferrety issue has just come off display and should be back 'home' at 599 P1.

Five things you might not know about ferrets (but could find out really quickly if you looked them up):
  • The female ferret is a "jill", the male is a "hob" and the young are "kittens".1 A group of ferrets is called a "business".2
  • Female ferrets need to be spayed if you don't intend to have them mated, as the build up of oestrus can lead to health problems.3
  • Ferrets are illegal in Queensland as they are considered a Class 1 pest. Permits for keeping ferrets are highly restricted, and the fine for keeping a ferret without a permit can be as high as $80,000.4
  • Black-footed ferrets and Siberian polecats are considered to be ecological equivalents, and scientists have used Siberian polecats (which are not endangered) as surrogate subjects for studies to learn more about black-footed ferrets - but this might not be as effective as researchers had previously thought.5
Something I learnt while researching this blog post:
  • The word "fesnying" (or "fesnyng") is often cited by colloquial sources as a collective noun for ferrets, but doesn't appear in any of the major dictionaries. It does, however, appear in the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue,6 where it is listed as a variant spelling for "fessining" and is defined as "fastening". When you consider the fact that a ferret's bite can penetrate a human finger to the bone,3 perhaps a "fastening of ferrets" is not completely inappropriate.

  • 1. Ferret. (2007). In Saunders comprehensive veterinary dictionary. Retrieved from
    2. Nouns. (2009). In Brewer's dictionary of phrase and fable. Retrieved from
    3. Ferret. (2005). In Black's veterinary dictionary. Retrieved from
    4. Primary Industries and Fisheries. (2010). Ferrets. Retrieved from
    5. Biggins, D. E., Hanebury, L. R., Miller, B. J., Powell, R. A. (2011). Black-footed ferrets and siberian polecats as ecological surrogates and ecological equivalents. Journal of Mammalogy, 92(4), 710. doi: 10.1644/10-mamm-s-110.1
    6. Craigie, W. A., Sir. (1937). A dictionary of the older Scottish tongue, from the twelfth century to the end of the seventeenth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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