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New research finds that domestic ferrets respond to the same human social cues as dogs do
Own a ferret? You're not as fringe as you may believe.
New research indicates that ferrets (cute, slinky, furry, mischievous) share many of the same accommodating behavioral characteristics towards humans as dogs, as reported by Scientific American.
How do you measure how domesticated a creature is? Scientists like to use pointing. Domesticated dogs understand what it means when you point at an object or touch it for a long period of time: check that out, this might be interesting.
But animals that are ostensibly smarter than dogs, such as chimpanzees or wild wolves, tend to stare at the researcher in abject confusion when they perform this very human gesture.
According to Scientific American, researchers pitted domesticated ferrets with wild mustelids (members of the weasel family, for the layman). The catch: the wild animals had all been raised by humans, and were kept as pets. Dogs were used as a control group.
The research found that the domestic ferrets reacted to human gestures of touching or pointing in a similar way to domestic dogs.
Further, domestic ferrets were found to be as willing as dogs to maintain steady eye contact with their owners - unlike wild animals who had been raised as pets. They also preferred to take food from their owners when given a choice, whereas the wild mustelides showed no preference.
You can read a summary of the original study here, which is awesomely titled "Man's Underground Best Friend."
Ferrets and humans have been partners for thousands of years, as some scientists estimate. Ferreting - the art of hunting small, ground-dwelling animals with one's furry, bitey friends - is not exactly in vogue these days but is still practiced by some people.
There's also the dubious "sport" of ferret-legging, whereupon Englishmen, usually cataclysmically drunk, put ferrets down their pants and compete to see who can keep the agitated, sharp-fanged animals down there the longest. Presumably, the alcohol dulls the pain.
This is where one can see how domesticated ferrets would be a major strategic advantage, although I suspect your average Chihuahua wouldn't perform much better. (Indeed, if you put ME down some drunk guys pants, I'd probably react with malice).