Linzey, Donald W. Wytheville Community College, Wytheville, Virginia.
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The name given to any of three carnivorous mammals in the genus Mustela (family Mustelidae); also known as the polecat. There are three species of ferrets, also termed polecats, belonging to the genus Mustela in the family Mustelidae of the order Carnivora. The European polecat or fitch (Mustela putorius) inhabits Europe west of the Ural Mountains; the steppe polecat (Mustela eversmanii) is found in the steppe zone from Austria to Manchuria and Tibet; and the endangered black-footed ferret or American polecat (Mustela nigripes) [see illustration] inhabits the plains region of North America from Alberta and Saskatchewan to northeastern Arizona and Texas. The domestic ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is generally thought to be a descendant of one or both of the Old World species. See also: Carnivora; Mammalia
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