Nitpick of the Day: Ferrets are Not Rodents

Austin’s KVUE News reported yesterday on a man, possibly in Brazil, who made a shocking discovery about his two pet poodles. Specifically, he learned that they are not poodles at all, but rather ferrets jacked up on steroids.

The unsourced story is certainly good for a shocked guffaw, except that it set off my NCD (Nerd Compulsive Disorder, which I hope to lobby for inclusion in the DSM-VI) when it described the two beasts as “giant rodents pumped with steroids to look like dogs.” Bad KVUE, bad!

The domesticated ferret, known to zoologists and geeks as Mustela putorius furo, is a placental mammal in the order Carnivora. Other well-known members of Carnivora includes dogs, cats, raccoons, meerkats, wolverines, honey badgers, lions, tigers, and bears (shut up.)

447px-Two-toed_sloth_Costa_Rica_-_croppedStarting with animals in general (jellyfish, dung beetles, and humans, to name a few), we narrow the field to vertebrates (catfish, bullfrogs, pigeons, and humans, to name a few), and then we get to mammals. Scientists have divided the class Mammalia into multiple subgroups, starting with monotremes (platypuses and echidnas), marsupials (kangaroos, etc.), and placental mammals (everything else, including us). They then subdivided the placental mammals into three subgroups: elephants, aardvarks, and manatees; armadillos, sloths, and anteaters; and everything else, including us*. That last group is called Boroeutheria, and includes rats, cats, rabbits, and people.

This is where it gets fun (sort of, because you discover who humanity’s closest relatives are, evolutionarily-speaking. Boroeutheria has two subgroups:

  • Euarchontoglires, which includes rodents, rabbits, treeshrews, lemurs, monkeys, and apes (including humans, because let’s be real: we’re apes without much hair.)
  • Laurasiatheria, which is much easier to pronounce and includes hedgehogs, bats, moles, whales, deer, antelope, pigs, cows, bats, horses, rhinoceroses, pangolins, dogs, cats, raccoons, meerkats, wolverines, honey badgers, lions, tigers, and bears (shut up.)

So you see, rodents (mice, rats, squirrels, porcupines, gerbils, beavers, capybara, etc.) are more closely related to humans than they are to ferrets. This also means that we are more closely related, evolution-wise, to the rats that totally, absolutely do not live under the shed in the backyard than we are to the dogs, cats, and ferrets that share our homes with us.

Then again, love knows no zoological boundaries, as evidenced by this capybara that raised a litter of orphaned puppies:

I will say that I feel a certain sense of hope for humanity based on the first few comments to the KVUE story:

Click to embiggen and be enlightened.

Click to embiggen and be enlightened.

* Whatever they say about the taxonomic distance between humans and sloths, I still know they are our soul mates.

Photo credit: By derivative work: Stevenj (talk)Original photo by Leyo. (Two-toed sloth Costa Rica.jpg) [CC-BY-2.5 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.


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