It's estimated that some 334,000 U.S. households have ferrets, according to the American Veterinary Medicine Association.

That's far lower than the number of cats and dogs, of course, but many people happily share their homes with them.

While these domesticated weasels have a reputation for being adorable — if a little stinky — there's a lot more to ferrets than you may realize.

1. Newborn ferrets are so small they can fit inside a teaspoon.

baby ferrets

Photo: USFWS Mountain-Prairie/flickr

The average ferret will grow to about 20 inches long and weigh 1.5 to 4 pounds, but when they're born, the animals are tiny, weighing about an ounce.

2. They have poor vision.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Because they're extremely nearsighted, ferrets rely on their excellent hearing and sense of smell to navigate the world. It's not uncommon for pet owners to witness their furry little friends running into walls or furniture.

"Ferrets are generally uncoordinated and clumsy, and their vision is poor," veterinarian Mark Burgess told Small Animal Channel. "Most can only see a couple feet in front of them, and they have very bad depth perception, which explains a lot of their klutziness."

3. They're hard workers.

Felicia the ferret

Photo: Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory

Ferrets have a long history of being put to work. They've been used to hunt rabbits and for vermin control, but perhaps their most interesting gig has involved running wire.

The animals' ability to navigate through confined spaces has been beneficial to several businesses and big events. Ferrets were used to lay cables beneath Greenwich Park for London's Millennium Concert, as well as to run wire at Buckingham Palace for the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Boeing even once employed the critters to string wire through its planes.

In the 1970s, Fermilab's Meson Laboratory even used a ferret named Felicia (pictured above) to clean 300 feet of inaccessible vacuum piping, but eventually Felicia was replaced by a robot.

4. They dance.

When ferrets get excited, they'll often arch their backs, puff out their tails and hop about, a display commonly referred to as the "weasel war dance."

In the wild, weasels use this "dance" to confuse or disorient prey, but when domestic ferrets engage in the behavior, it's typically expressing enjoyment or playfulness. During such a display, ferrets will often make clucking sounds known as "dooking," and it’s not uncommon for them to lose their balance or to run into objects.

5. They sleep like the dead.

sleepy ferrets

Photo: Vanessa/flickr

New ferret owners might be alarmed to find their pet lying limp and motionless and not responding to touch or sound, but this is simply what's known as "ferret dead sleep."

"The ferret’s just in a very, very deep sleep," veterinarian Mike Dutton told Small Animal Channel. "Ferrets play very hard, and sometimes they really need that deep sleep to recuperate after all that activity."

6. They can be trained.

ferrets on leashes

Photo: Hans Splinter/flickr

Ferrets are intelligent animals with an incredible capacity for learning. They can learn to use a litter box, as well as how to sit, shake and walk on a leash.

7. They may spend a lot of time in someone's pants.

ferret in pants

Photo: Pierre Honeyman/flickr

Ferret-legging is an endurance contest where participants tie their pants at the ankles, put a ferret into their pants and then secure their belts.

Contestants aren't allowed to wear underwear, and the ferrets must have a full set of teeth. Whoever keeps the ferret in their pants longest wins.

8. They love packing peanuts.

Watch the video and you'll see just how much they love them. If you decide to try this with your own ferrets, specifies to use only biodegradable packing peanuts.

Related on MNN: