Who is the daddy?
My guess is a European polecat that mated with the ferret.
I don’t know about the extra toes bit.
Using ferrets to catch rabbits is an old European tradition. It did have some following in the United States, but now it has been outlawed virtually everywhere.
However, there were at least a few attempts to adapt ferreting to American mustelids.
The following account comes from John James Audubon’s The Quadrupeds of North America, Volume 3 (1854):
We find from our notes, that in the State of New York in the winter of 1808, we kept a Weasel, which we suppose may have been this species [“The Tawny Weasel”], in confinement, together with several young ermines. The latter all became white in winter, but the former underwent no change in colour, remaining brown. On another occasion a specimen of a brown Weasel was brought to us in the month of December. At that season the ermines are invariably white. We cannot after the lapse of so many years say with certainty whether these specimens of Weasels that were brown in winter were those of the smaller, Putorius pusillus, or the present species ; although we believe from our recollection of the size they were the latter. We therefore feel almost warranted in saying that this species docs not change colour in winter.
We were in the habit of substituting our American Weasels for the European ferrets, in driving out the gray rabbit (Lepus sylvaticus) from the holes to which that species usually resorts in the northern States, when pursued by dogs… Whilst the ermines seemed to relish this amusement vastly, the brown Weasel refused to enter the holes, and we concluded that the latter was the least courageous animal (pg. 235-236).
From Audubon’s description of the “tawny weasel” describes it as being much more robust than a European weasel [the least weasel] and that it has a black-tipped tail. The black-tipped tail and the description of it being distinct from but similar to a stoat or ermine strongly suggests that this “tawny weasel” was what we call a long-tailed weasel. Further, all North American stoats or ermines turn white in the winter. Not all long-tailed weasels do.
The ones in my area actually do, but the ones that Audubon was encountered in the lower part of New York State did not.
I’ve never heard of anyone using anything other than a ferret to ferret, but the use of North American mustelids for this purpose is pretty interesting.
Ferreting with the long-tailed weasels was evidently a failure, but using ermines/stoats to do so was not.
I wonder why stoats/ermines never became as domesticated as ferrets are.
I don’t know how hard they are breed in captivity, but if they were easy to handle, there must be some good reason why they were never domesticated.
In North America, rabbits go to ground only when pressed by an enemy or when the cold weather drives them into holes or pipes.
European rabbits dig extensive warrens, but American cottontails do not.
This could go a long way to explaining why European ferrets were so successful as domestic animals.
We didn’t have the need to make our own ferrets out of our own mustelids– except on a very limited basis.
This mustelid is a Siberian weasel (Mustela sibirica). Its range includes a huge chunk of Eurasia, and it is called the Siberian weasel because Westerners knew the species from Russian specimens. However, its vast range goes from European Russia all the way to Taiwan.
Its fur is marketed as “kolinsky sable,” and if you buy a brush that is said to come from a kolinsky sable, you are actually purchasing a brush tipped in the winter fur of this animal. In Russian, the animal’s name is “kolonok,” but it is easier for us to say Siberian weasel, even if its range is much more extensive than Siberia.
Although it looks very similar to the steppe polecat, it is not the same thing. The two species share a range, but the steppe polecat is darker. The Siberian weasel is always this apricot color.
It’s a very attractive color for a weasel, and it sort of reminds me of some races of the long-tailed weasel. In the Southwestern US, the long-tailed weasels are masked. In my area, the local variant of the long-tailed weasel is unmasked, and it turns white in the winter.
When I saw a video of the Siberian weasel, I was much more reminded of the long-tailed weasel than any species of ferret or polecat. Here’s a playful Siberian weasel versus a pet ferret:
These animals are widely bred on fur farms, so my guess is that they are probably not far from being available on the pet market. I doubt that they are as domesticated as ferrets are.
However, the movement is so similar to the long-tailed weasel that I can’t help but be intrigued by this species.
Of course, I am a bit biased here, for my the weasel family has always fascinated me. They are as intelligent as dogs and cats, yet most of them are quite tiny in comparison.
Indeed, they have so fascinated me that I have the body of a long-tailed weasel in my freezer. It was shot in late October– just when its fur was turning from brown to white. I wanted to have it taxidermied, but I never got around to it.
The Chinese have the coolest name for the Siberian weasel.
It is huang shu lang, which means “yellow rat wolf.”
What a name!