Polecat (Mustela putorius)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family:    Mustelidae
Size:    Height: 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10 cm)   Length: 15 to 20 inches (38 to 51 cm)     
Weight: 1 to 4 pounds (0.45 to 1.8 kg)
Diet: Rabbits, mice, rats, voles, amphibians, fish, birds, poultry and eggs
Distribution: Europe, North Africa, New Zealand, Australia
Young:  3 to 7 kits, once a year
Animal Predators:  Unknown
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Young: Kit
Lifespan: 4 to 5 years in the wild, up to 14 in captivity



·       In the United States, skunks are sometimes referred to as polecats.

·       Polecats rely on their sense of smell to track prey because of their poor eyesight.

·       The pelt of the European polecat is called “fitch” in the fur trade.

·       Polecats are featured on a 1996 Luxembourg stamp.

·       Mustela is Latin for weasel; putorius is from the Latin verb putor, to have a bad odour.

·       Domestic ferrets are closely related to polecats.



Polecats have a long body with a bushy tail. They have creamy coloured underfur that shines through their upper layer of brown fur. They have a mask-like face like a raccoon. Males are usually much larger than females. 



Polecats exist mainly in Europe, although their numbers are extremely low in the United Kingdom due to over-hunting for fur and human development.  They have been introduced to Australia and New Zealand, where they now run wild, and a small population exists in North Africa. Polecats burrow in stream banks or under tree roots, near woods and wetlands or bordering on farms.  


Feeding Habits

Polecats often live near rivers or other water sources because they are excellent swimmers that hunt amphibians and fish, in addition to the staple of their diets—rodents such as mice, rats and voles. They can be found near human dwellings and despite their predation on rodents, they are considered nuisances because they prey on small game, poultry and eggs, sometimes killing more than they can eat. 



Mating season begins in late winter. Three to seven babies are born one-and-a-half months to two months after conception, in a nest made in a tree, a pile of stones or a bed of dried grass, lined with soft materials such as feathers and leaves. After one month they are weaned, and when they reach adult size at three months, they are no longer cared for by their mother, even though they are not fully mature until six months of age. 



Polecats are fierce predators that can catch and kill prey much larger than themselves. They have jaws that lock into place—a polecat can be lifted off the ground by whatever he is holding with his teeth. Although polecats have been compared to skunks because they both emit a foul odour when under attack, unlike skunks, polecats do not spray their enemies. They are solitary animals and defend their territories aggressively.



Polecat populations have begun to increase during the last decade of the twentieth century due to the increasing negative public opinion on wearing animal furs.










Polecat Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US