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The polecat (scientific name Mustela putorius) is a medium-sized carnivorous member of the mammal society and mustelid family. It was proposed as the ancestor of both domestic cats and ferret, but later studies cast doubt on this hypothesis.

The polecat has been called by many names over the years by various cultures, including the ‘stinker’ (in Ireland and Scotland), ‘stoat‘, ‘polcat’, and several other variations.

In the United Kingdom, the polecat became extinct during the 19th century but was reintroduced from Scandinavia to parts of Britain and Ireland between 1898 and 1914. Its numbers increased rapidly towards the end of World War II, thus seeing an increased recovery recently from extinction in places like rural Wales and parts of England. They are also now protected in the UK by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

What Does A Polecat Look Like?

A wonderful polecat in its woodland surroundings
Wild polecat in forest

The polecat has a long head, small eyes, short legs, and rounded ears. The adults have a body length of about 1.3 meters (4 feet), including the tail, and weigh 4 to 6 kilograms (9 to 13 lb). The two tone coat of fur is coarse and grizzled tawny brown or greyish-brown on the upper parts, white or sometimes buff coloured underfur. It is roughly the size of a ferret, but the muzzle is shorter yet longer than that of the domestic cat. It has strong claws and sharp teeth adapted for eating flesh and burrowing into dens of smaller animals to feed on them.

Where Do Polecats Live?

The species has a wide distribution throughout Europe (especially mainland Britain, including Scotland and rural Wales) and Asia, extending into North Africa; it is absent from Iceland, Ireland, and large areas of northern Eurasia.

They are declared vermin in many European countries, which suggests that they have not been introduced from elsewhere as pets but have rather reverted to a wild state.

The polecat (Mustela putorius) was introduced into North America, probably from Britain.

Polecat habitats are varied and depend primarily on the availability of burrows. Its preferred territory is lowland wooded habitats, open countryside with low vegetation such as heaths, fields, and marshland. They require woods nearby for shelter and an area of tall herbs or coarse grass to conceal its scent when hunting.

Are There Polecats In England?

A resting polecat
European polecat resting on the ground in its habitat in Wales

Yes, there are plenty in central and southern England, and they were introduced into the British Isles for pest control. The first introductions took place from about 1898 to 1914. They have been established in many parts of Great Britain since, although they are absent from some of the northernmost parts of Scotland and Ireland.

What Is The Difference Between A Ferret And A Polecat?

Polecats and ferrets belong to the same species. The difference is in appearance. Polecats are larger and heavier, have longer hair, more prominent ears, and a more slender muzzle, and are typically less domesticated than most ferrets. They are highly territorial and are found in mountain regions. Another difference between the two is the color of their coats. Polecats have a dark brown coat with darker fur around the face and legs. Ferrets are slightly smaller, have a golden-brown coat with lighter fur around the face and legs.

What Do Polecats Eat?

Vield vole (Microtus agrestis)
A polecat’s favourite food (vield vole)

Bloodthirsty animals, polecats are carnivores, eating small mammals and carrion, and occasionally poultry or eggs during their nocturnal hunting forays.

They eat small rodents, especially rabbits, and can kill prey twice their size. Polecats eat small rodents such as rats and will also eat birds as adults and chicks. Intimidating enough with its distinct bandit like appearance, the polecat will often slowly stalk its prey and quickly finish its kill with a swift bite to the neck.

Do Polecats Have Predators?

Polecats have few natural predators. However, they may be killed by golden eagles and other raptors and by foxes, dogs, and birds of prey. They themselves hunt rabbits, ground squirrels, and other small animals.

What Is The Lifespan Of A Polecat?

A polecat perched on a rock

In captivity, the average age is 5 years for male polecats and 7 years for females; they may live to nearly 14 years in captivity.

Polecat Personality

Polecats are a solitary species that are shy and avoid humans. They will not live in close proximity to other mustelids; the territories of wild populations may overlap, but usually, a territory is about 100 ha (0.24 km²).

They are mostly nocturnal hunters, with peak activity around midnight. During the day, they rest in or near their burrows or dens.

The female gives birth to one to three kittens in the winter after a gestation period of about 2 months. The young are weaned at 3–4 weeks old and leave the den at 10–12 weeks old.

Sources and References

  1. What is the Difference Between a Ferret and a Polecat? – pbspettravel.co.uk
  2. Western Polecat – findingnature.co.uk

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