Like most domestic animals, the original reason for ferrets' domestication by human beings is uncertain but it may have involved hunting. It was most likely domesticated from the European polecat (Mustela putorius).
The Greek word ictis occurs in a play written by Aristophanes, The Acharnians, in 425 BC. Whether this was a reference to ferrets, polecats, or the similar Egyptian Mongoose is uncertain. The name "ferret" is derived from the Latin furittus, meaning "little thief", a likely reference to the common ferret penchant for secreting away small items.
Ferrets are energetic, curious, interested in their surroundings, and often actively solicit play with humans, having a repertoire of behaviors both endearing and difficult for some human owners. Play for a ferret will often involve hide-and-seek games, or some form of predator and prey game in which either the human attempts to catch the ferret or the ferret to catch the human. They also have a strong nesting instinct and will repeatedly carry small objects or food to secluded locations. Ferrets will seemingly form attachments to certain objects and will repeatedly seek out and "steal" the same object and bring it to their hiding place.
A ferret in a War Dance jump
When ferrets are excited, they may perform a routine commonly referred to as the weasel war dance, a frenzied series of sideways hops. This is often accompanied by a soft clucking noise, commonly referred to as dooking. It is often an invitation to play or an expression of happy excitement and is not threatening. The ferret's posture may become rigid with wide open jaws, momentary eye contact followed by thrashing or turning of the head from side to side, arching the back, piloerection (goosebumps), and hopping to the side or backwards while facing the intended playmate. This is often accompanied by an excited panting sound that may sound like a hiss. Often, this behavior will break into a game of chase, pounce and wrestle. Ferrets in war dances are very accident prone, often hopping into obstacles or tripping over their own feet.
Ferrets tend to nip as kits (juveniles).
The European Polecat (Mustela putorius), also known as a fitch, foumart, or foulmart, is a member of the Mustelidae family, and is related to the stoats, otters, weasels and minks. Polecats are dark brown with a lighter bandit-like mask across the face, pale yellow underbody fur, a long tail and short legs. They are somewhat larger than weasels but smaller than otters.
Though polecats are chiefly polygynous, females can be polyandrous.
Polygyny (from neo-Greek: πολύ poly - "many", and γυνή gyny - "woman or wife") is a form of marriage in which a man has two or more wives at the same time, or, to put it another way, more than one woman share a man. It is distinguished from a relationship where a man who has a sexual partner outside marriage, such as a concubine, casual sexual partner, paramour, or other culturally recognized secondary partner. Polygyny is the most common form of polygamy. The much rarer practice of polyandry is the form of marriage in which one woman has two or more husbands at the same time.
Polyandry (Greek: poly- many, andros- man) refers to a form of sexual union, in which a woman is married to two or more husbands at the same time or, to put it another way, more than one man share a woman.
According to inscriptions describing the reforms of the Sumerian king Urukagina of Lagash (ca. 2300 BC), he is said to have abolished the former custom of polyandry in his country, on pain of the woman taking multiple husbands being stoned with rocks upon which her crime is written.