I've always heard that the modern ferret is a descendant from the European Stoat. As I was doing some research, I came across this history of the ferret:

The history of one of our favorite domestic pets is still awhirl in controversy. Some points are generally agreed on, but much is still shrouded in mystery. References to ferrets, or at least very similar animals, goes back many centuries. Though not identified exactly, something very like ferrets is mentioned in a play by Aristophanes and essays by Aristotle over 2,500 years ago. More certain are the many pieces of evidence to ferrets, both in writing and paintings, in the late Middle Ages. There are references in the 13th century to ferreters who were part of the ’staff’ of the Royal Court in England. Between 1200AD and 1400AD ferrets were a favorite pet of royalty. But, ‘pet’ has a slightly different meaning when applied to an animal many centuries past.

Read the rest of the story at Petlvr.

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"Origin of the Modern Domestic Ferret" by was published on March 27th, 2008 and is listed in Ferret News.

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