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Either of two species in the carnivore family Mustelidae. The common ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is a domesticated form of the European polecat. It has a long, lithe body and is brown, black, or white (albino). Its average length is 20 in. (51 cm), including the 5-in. (13-cm) tail, and it weighs about 2 lbs (1 kg). It was originally domesticated for hunting mice, rats, and rabbits; today ferrets are commonly kept as pets. The black-footed ferret (M. nigripes), of the North American plains, has a black mask across the eyes and brownish black markings on the feet and tail tip. It is an endangered species, owing to the loss of its main source of food, the prairie dog.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on ferret, visit Britannica.com.