Are Ferrets Nocturnal Or Diurnal? Their Sleep Behavior Explained

Cinnamon ferret
© Couperfield/Shutterstock.com

Written by Janet F. Murray

Published: October 26, 2022

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Many people keep these furry animals as pets, wondering whether ferrets are nocturnal. But some wild species still live in nature. When awake, these animals spend much time playing or foraging in the wild. But once they use up their energy, they enter a state of deep sleep for a few hours. But are ferrets nocturnal or diurnal? Or something else? This article explores the sleep behavior of ferrets and discusses whether they are nocturnal or diurnal.

Ferrets Are neither Nocturnal nor Diurnal

Ferret litter pan

Ferrets are crepuscular animals that change their sleep and activity patterns to suit their owners or environmental factors.

©iStock.com/Harald Schmidt

Ferrets are not nocturnal or diurnal, but are crepuscular. Crepuscular animals are active when the sun rises and sets. But besides this, ferrets are adaptable and rarely have a fixed sleeping and activity schedule. Pet ferrets are like this because they match their owner’s routines and want to be active when their owners are awake. Consequently, ferrets may be crepuscular, nocturnal, or diurnal, depending on their owners’ schedules.

Ferrets Sleep for Most of the Day

Domesticated ferrets sleep for 12 to 16 hours each day. They sleep for long hours because they are highly energetic when awake. But ferrets do not sleep for 12 to 16 hours consistently. Scientists have found that ferrets sleep for 60% of the day with 40% of the total sleep time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Ferrets sleep in intervals and wake to play. This schedule means that the ferret sleeps roughly five hours for every hour of play. But this sleep and play pattern differs between ferrets. Baby and older ferrets sleep longer than younger and adult ferrets. Young ferrets often sleep less than other ferrets because they are inquisitive and want to explore their surroundings. Male ferrets are also known to sleep more than females.

Most wild ferrets are nocturnal, but some species have shown diurnal tendencies. For example, wild polecats hunt during the day. The sleeping patterns of wild ferrets are different from domesticated ferrets, as habitat, territorial competition, and food affect their daily activities.

Ferrets’ Nocturnal Sleep Behavior

Domestic ferrets sleep deeply. During this sleep, their respiration and heart rate decrease. Their deep sleep makes them look lifeless, and sometimes their owners think they have died. When ferrets awaken, they take a while to become fully conscious. Older ferrets take even longer to wake. If you want to rouse your ferret, you should start by lightly nudging it and speaking softly to avoid startling your pet. Ferrets also sleep in various positions. They may sleep together in a group, curled up, on their backs, or with their legs stretched out. Ferrets also yawn and often do so after waking up. 

Ferrets Can See Better in the Dark Than Humans

stoat vs ferret

Ferrets like to sleep in dark places where they can rest without interruption.

©Couperfield/Shutterstock.com

Ferrets have a tapetum lucidum in their eyes. The tapetum is what makes their eyes shine when reflecting bright light. As light passes through the ferret’s retina, the tapetum lucidum reflects it, producing the peculiar glow you see in some animal eyes at night.

The tapetum helps the ferret see better in the dark as it multiples any light in its environment at night. Although they have good night vision, ferrets cannot see in settings with any light and find adjusting to bright light settings challenging. This limited night vision means their eyesight is at its best just after the sun sets and rises.

Ferrets also have binocular vision, meaning they can swivel their eyes but must turn their heads to look sideways. Their pupils have horizontal slits designed to view their prey better. The ferret’s main quarries are rabbits and hares, which move in a hopping motion. Predators often have horizontally slit pupils that hunt these animals.

Ferrets Sleep in Burrows

Wild nocturnal ferrets enjoy sleeping in dark places like their burrows. But these animals are known to find shelter almost anywhere. But, a pet ferret will find the nearest shelter under pillows, blankets, beds, or carpets after they become tired from playing. Pet ferrets need a few hammocks or beds for sleeping in their cage. Their owners should buy various types of hammocks; some should be open, and others closed, giving these animals a choice of where to rest.

Activity Varies Across Different Species

Although most ferrets are crepuscular, some species differ. For example, black-footed ferrets are crepuscular and nocturnal. Their sleeping patterns vary due to environmental changes in the seasons. Black-footed ferrets and polecats are known to have flexible feeding times and will hunt during the day or night.

Siberian polecats do not have a fixed sleeping or activity schedule and are active when it pleases them. But these ferrets prefer being busy in bright moonlight. This activity schedule may be due to good night vision when they can see clearly enough to forage efficiently. European polecat routines also vary, with males and females being active at different times. For instance, the males are most active between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., so they are crepuscular and nocturnal. Females are more active during the daytime, but some show crepuscular and nocturnal tendencies.

Ferrets Have Nocturnal Tendencies Because of Predators

european polecat in yellow leaves

Research shows that male European polecats or ferrets are nocturnal, while the females are diurnal.

©iStock.com/marcinplaza

Ferrets choose to be active at night due to predators. Many predators are diurnal animals that pose a great danger to ferrets during the day. For example, coyotes are ferret predators and are active in the evening before midnight. Ferrets show the least activity during this period if they live near coyotes. They will then be active again after midnight once coyotes have decreased their activity. Since ferrets are adaptable animals, their nocturnal tendencies are caused by environmental pressures rather than evolutionary or learned behaviors.

Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference?

Navigate to Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference? for further information about the nocturnal and diurnal phenomenon in various living creatures.

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with more than eight years of content creation experience. My content writing covers diverse genres, and I have a business degree. I am also the proud author of my memoir, My Sub-Lyme Life. This work details the effects of living with undiagnosed infections like rickettsia (like Lyme). By sharing this story, I wish to give others hope and courage in overcoming their life challenges. In my downtime, I value spending time with friends and family.

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