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  Ferret  (Mustela putorius furo)    
  Description | Behaviour and Life-cycle | Ecological Impacts| Field Sign    

The largest mustelid in New Zealand, with a body length of 320mm-460mm and a tail of 110-180mm. Males are noticeably larger than females, averaging 1.1-1.3kg (max 1.85kg) with females ranging from 400-1100grams. Considerably larger and of ‘stockier’ build than stoats.

The colour is variable, with a typical white or cream undercoat and a variable quantity of longer dark guard hairs, giving some animals a black looking appearance while others appear almost white. The tail is uniformly dark. A variable dark mask occurs across the eyes and above the nose.

A pedator that relies heavily on sight, smell and sound.



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Behaviour and Life-cycle

Can swim short distances, but is generally not keen on entering the water.

A poor climber.

Preferred habitat is pastoral or open country eg. river beds, or forest margins.

Mainly nocturnal. Home ranges variable according to food supply, from 3-70ha. Ferrets usually exclude others of the same sex from its central home range.

Scent glands are used extensively to leave territorial scent markers.

Mating usually occurs in September. The litter usually of 4-8 (up to 12) is born in October or November, with young independent by late January. Females can have a second litter after this if food is abundant.

There is high mortality in the first year, and an average lifespan in the wild may be 4-5 years.

Principal food is lagomorphs (rabbits and hares) with rodents, possums and ground-dwelling or nesting birds also frequently taken. Lizards, eels, frogs, insects, eggs, hedgehogs and carrion are minor prey
items. Densities of ferrets seem to be strongly correlated with density of rabbits.

Generally absent or in low numbers in areas of high rainfall, where there are few rabbits, or deep within forested areas.

Will often revisit the site of a kill.

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Ecological Impacts

Not as widespread or arboreal as stoats. However, ferrets have a significant effect on many riverbed breeding birds eg. black stilt, dotterel species and pied oystercatcher.

Ferrets are known to prey on royal albatross chicks, yellow-eyed penguin and little blue penguin, weka , N.Is kiwi , and numerous freshwater wetland birds eg. ducks.

They are considered as one of the major causes of decline of the white-flippered penguin, and as a significant and probable main cause (along with cats) of massive range contractions of grand and Otago skinks.

Ferrets are able to take on and kill adult kiwi.

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Field Sign

Strong eye-shine at night.

Scats similar to stoats and weasels but much larger, usually 70mm long and 10mm wide. Black colour with twisted tapering ends, usually full of fur, feathers and bone fragments.

Scats are often deposited in prominent positions, and obvious latrine areas are sometimes located near den entrances.

Prints similar to, but larger than, stoat.


  Description | Behaviour and Life-cycle | Ecological Impacts | Field Sign    
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