A few weeks ago, we went to visit Juniper the Fox and her family, and left for home with an adorable ferret named Frankie. Frankie was found wandering the streets of Florida, and we were very happy to welcome him in to the Sesame Family. Upon inspection, we realized that ferrets look like opossums that have been stretched out into a noodle. Thus began our journey of research to determine whether ferrets and opossums are related.
The short answer is no, they are not. Let's begin by exploring what ferrets are. They are not, in fact, noodled opossums. They are actually a domesticated form of the European Polecat, and evidence suggests that these polecats were domesticated over 2,000 years ago by humans who sought them for their vermin-eating ways. Specifically, humans fought to control rabbit populations, and ferret domestication likely occurred first in the European rabbits' habitat of Iberia (mostly Spain and Portugal) and Northwest Africa. Since the European polecat is the only ancestor of modern-day ferrets, the latter are nearly physically indistinguishable from their wild counterparts.
Having been bred and domesticated for generations, however, a common household ferret — though sharing nearly all features with their wild polecat cousins — cannot survive in the wild. Which is in exact opposition to the North American-born Virginia Opossum, who thrives better in the wild than a household setting. Domestic ferrets are part of the Mustelidae family, a group of about 60 carnivorous species including otters, weasels, minks, badgers, and wolverines. The Mustedlidae family is the largest family in the order Carnivora, and various Mustelid species are native to all continents except Australia and Antarctica. Virginia Opossums (the kind that Sesame, Starry, and Daffodil are) are masupials and a part of the Didelphidae family. Virginia Opossums have not been domesticated, and they share the Didelphidae family with over 100 other species of opossum native to the Americas.
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