Ferret (and Weasel) Day
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"Half a pound of tuppenny rice, Half a pound of treacle. That's the way the money goes, Pop! goes the weasel!"
Weasels, stoats, and even domesticated ferrets all perform a crazy “war dance” when they’ve got their prey cornered or are happily excited. Scientists speculate that this wacky twisting, hopping, and darting around disorients, confuses, or even hypnotizes prey animals. In domesticated ferrets, the war dance usually includes a clucking vocalization, known among domestic ferret owners as "dooking", generally indicating happiness! If you've ever gotten confused in a weasel reel, you may end up performing your own version of a war dance in a crazy effort to refind your position!
The Happy Weasel
Ferret Day celebrates the domesticated cousins of the Mustelid family (also known as polecats from the Old English, "phoulcat" meaning foul cat) that includes ferrets, weasels, and stoats, also called ermines. They're closely related to each other as well as to martins, minks, wolverines and otters.
In the tropics the place of Mustelids is taken by civets, genets and mongoose.
The Latin name for ferret, Mustela putorius furo, means 'smelly little thief' referring to their ability to eject a fetid fluid when threatened.
Here are the names for groups of these animals:
A group of ferrets is called a 'business'.
A group of weasels is called a 'boogle,' 'confusion,' 'gang,' or 'pack'.
A group of stoats is called a 'caravan'.
The weasel family is fiercely carnivorous - they prey upon small and medium-sized mammals like mice, voles and pocket gophers, young rabbits, birds and their eggs, snakes, insects and carrion. The stoat eats small rodents and insects and sometimes kills prey larger than itself. The ferret eats prairie dogs and other animals that live in prairie dog towns.
Weasels, stoats, and even domesticated ferrets all perform a wild (what can be perceived as "happy") “weasel war dance” when they’ve got their prey cornered. Scientists aren’t totally sure why they do this. One theory is that the twisting, hopping, and darting around distracts, confuses, or even hypnotizes prey animals. In one case, researchers concluded that a number of rabbits killed by stoats had actually “died of fright” after being subjected to the weasel war dance!
In a strange activity and fad which can bring to mind the crazy dance of the weasel, Ferret-legging is one of the oddest. Ferret-legging is an endurance test or stunt in which ferrets were trapped in trousers worn by a participant. Also known as put 'em down and ferret-down-trousers, it seems to have been popular among coal miners in Yorkshire, England. Contestants put live ferrets inside their trousers; the winner is the one who is the last to release the animals.
The world record is five hours and thirty minutes.
Ferret-legging may have originated during the time when only the relatively wealthy in England were allowed to keep animals used for hunting, forcing poachers to hide their illicit ferrets in their trousers. Following a brief resurgence in popularity during the 1970s, it has been described as a "dying sport", although a national ferret-legging event was held in Richmond, Virginia from 2003 to 2009.
Within Scottish Country Dance, there are many different types of reels, some with animal names, but only one dedicated to the wily weasel and its undulating gait.
To view the genteel weasel reel (compared to a ferret-legging dance), see below for a video of the Mountain View, California Demonstration Team perform the dance in 2013.
For more about the possible origin and timeframe of the popularity of the the tune and dance, "Pop Goes the Weasel" click the black-footed ferret!