by Tina Blue
January 7, 2001
Ferrets are burrowing creatures. I believe that many of their funny little behaviors are associated with this aspect of their essential nature.
Most ferrets will choose and hide a special toy. They may enjoy many toys, but every ferret I have owned or taken care of has selected one special toy that it kept hidden so that no one would steal it--or even play with it, for that matter. The fact that I had a home daycare created a special sense of urgency for the ferrets in my home, since the children always struck the ferrets as plausible rivals, at least where toys were concerned.
Ivy, my first ferret, chose a small pastel yellow baby rattle as her special toy. The rattle was in the shape of a telephone, and it was very small--obviously meant for a really young baby.
Ferrets love the chook-chook sound a rattle makes. (You can make the same sort of sound by shaking a plastic bag at a ferret, and she will then dance and scamper backward in delight.)
Ivy found the rattle in the first place by digging around in my general toy basket, but once she had made her selection, she did not want anyone else to touch it.
She never brought her little telephone rattle out during the day, but each night, when I turned out the lights and got into bed, I would hear a soft chook-chook, as Ivy scampered into the room carrying her toy. It was thin enough in the middle to allow her to pick it up in her tiny mouth, with its earpiece and mouthpiece extending out to either side of her little head. (We're talking about an animal that only weighed one and a half pounds. Female ferrets are usually pretty darned small.)
She would lay the rattle on the floor near the head of my bed, and nudge it back and forth with her nose to make it go
chook-chook, chook-chook. Then she would turn over on her back, with the rattle in her paws and roll back and forth to make it go chook-chook, chook-chook some more.
After about five or six minutes, she would get bored with her toy, so she would pick it up in her mouth and scamper back to her room, chook-chook, chook-chook, to hide her treasure until after lights out the next night.
I named my second ferret Ivy also, because first Ivy died suddenly at just fifteen months of age, so I didn't feel the name had been adequately used. (I'm sort of strange that way.)
Second Ivy's favorite toy, which she also selected by rooting around through the general toy basket, was a small rubber lion, about the size of a roll of scotch tape. Because it was hollow and very lightweight, and made out of soft rubber, she was able to pick it up in her mouth, even though it had no extended parts for carrying, as first Ivy's telephone rattle had.
Second Ivy was much more suspicious of the kids than first Ivy was. She was never quite satisfied that her lion was safe in its hiding place, so three or four times a day she would transport it, as sneakily as possible, from one place to another. If she happened to catch a child watching her as she moved her toy, she would wait until the child looked elsewhere, and then move her lion again, making sure this time that no child was watching.
I know it was the kids she was concerned about, because once I ended my daycare a year and a half ago, she started leaving the lion out in plain sight and playing with it right in front of me. She still hides it, though, when my own two kids are visiting. They are grown up now, but she knows they were children, and she doesn't trust children, even ex-children, with her special toy.
Watching second Ivy move her treasure around to keep its hiding place a secret, I was reminded of the way our country's anti-ballistic missiles were placed on trains and moved all over the place, so no enemy would know where they were at any given moment in order to take them out.
I thought it was sort of a goofy plan when I first heard of it. In a ferret, such a plan could be considered clever and strategic--but a ferret's brain is about the size of one of my smaller fingernails.
You'd think human beings would be able to come up with a more impressive strategy than a ferret's for keeping their special treasures hidden from potential rivals.
For more ferret stories, see Pam McInnis' website (click here).