Abstract and Summary
Behaviour Analysis of Polecat Ferrets during Social Play
The article deals with the social play of polecat ferrets (Mustela putorius f. furo). The coordinations in playful romping are compared with parallel functional behaviour patterns. The behaviour shown in play is less strictly coordinated and orientated than the corresponding behaviour sequences in fighting and mating. Some of the forms of behaviour are more intensive and longer lasting in a serious context than they are in play. In the ontogenesis of social play both continuity and stages of development can be differentiated. The basic patterns of attack and defence are displayed in complete form shortly after the eyes open. The deliberate gripping of the nape of the neck develops gradually. It is probable that this development is partly dependent on learning processes.
The social experience of young polecat ferrets affects the degree of their play motivation. During the experiment, animals which had been reared alone played together more than three times as much as those reared socially. The withholding of social experience apparently causes a drop in the threshold values of many sequences of play behaviour.
In play, sex difference affects both the readiness to act and the frequency of many forms of behaviour. In general males play more frequently than females. In encounters between opposite sexes the males play offensively and the females defensively or passively. It is assumed that social play serves to develop forms of behaviour which will later be of decisive importance in social behaviour generally and in sexual behaviour in particular.