Considering their resemblance to animals like squirrels, you might be under the impression that ferrets are related rodents. Despite their looks, are ferrets really rodents or not? No, ferrets are actually considered weasels! They’re not related to rodents like rats, mice, or squirrels in any way and are more closely related to other predator species that you might be familiar with.
If you’ve ever wondered about what lies underneath the zany, furry skin of your ferret, you’re not alone. Join us below as we elaborate on how the ferret is classified in the animal kingdom, what it’s related to, and how to distinguish rodents from weasels.
What Animals Are Ferrets Related To?
Ferrets are considered weasels and are part of the Mustela genus, which is home to many other furry, lithe predators you may also be familiar with. If you expand it a bit to include the Mustelidae family, ferrets are related to a ton of animals. Mustela and Mustelidae are distinguished by remarkably long but short bodies with stubby legs. For short, most people call them mustelids.
Surprisingly, most mustelids don’t make as good pets as ferrets do, but they’re fascinating critters in their own right. Check out our list of what animals the ferret is related to just below to get a better idea.
Characteristics of Ferrets and Other Mustelids
You might have a vague idea of the kind of animals that mustelids are: agile, pint-sized predators, which isn’t far off the mark. However, in terms of biology, ferrets and other members of the Mustela genus share a number of specific traits that mark them as relatives. Let’s check out some of those below so you can identify members of this genus more easily.
What’s the Difference Between Weasels and Rodents?
There are a few major differences between weasels, like ferrets, and rodents, like squirrels or hamsters. First and most important is the creature’s teeth. Rodents are herbivores that have constantly growing incisors that they wear down by chewing. Ferrets, by contrast, are fun-sized carnivores with sharp little incisors that don’t constantly grow, and they don’t have the same compulsion to chew either.
Diet is the other major difference, and ferrets will actually prey on rodents in the wild or in captivity if they’re placed together. In fact, you’re not supposed to house them together for that very reason! Ferrets are fierce predators that will incessantly hunt anything small and mobile in their domain, much like cats. This leads to our next question.
Are Ferrets Related to Cats or Dogs?
It’s a reasonable question considering that, like cats and dogs, ferrets are furry little predators we’ve domesticated as companion animals. The closest similarity is that they’re very inquisitive and playful, like cats. Ferrets get up to a lot of the same zany shenanigans that cats and dogs do as well and can develop similar bonds with us humans, but are they related at all?
Not really. As weasels, ferrets are technically related to felines and canines in a very distant cousin type of way. More specifically, they’re all members of the Carnivora order, which means dogs, cats, and ferrets stem from the same ancient carnivorous ancestors.
While they certainly have their differences, you can see many biological similarities related to their similar appetite for meat. Dogs, cats, and ferrets all have incisors and jaws tailored by evolution to rip and tear flesh. Besides being furry, though, that’s roughly where the similarities end.
Ferrets are mustelids part of the Mustela family of weasels, making them relatives to the fierce wolverine and the sanguine otter. While they bear many biological similarities to other domestic pets like cats and dogs because of their shared ancestry, ferrets are in a class all their own among mustelids.