Mustelids are seldom the main focus in documentaries, art, literature, games, and animation, but certain species are even more overlooked than others. Creators often exclude rarer species in media, some believing they are not as interesting or recognisable compared to others to be appreciated. However, how exactly are people supposed to learn about and appreciate rarer animals if we continue to only focus on those which are more familiar?
To make a unique character, sometimes giving them horns, wild colours, or extraordinary attributes are not the only available options. We hope this list encourages creators to extend some attention to other mustelid species.
When talking about mustelids or creating mustelid characters, keep in mind the term badger, ferret-badger, grison, marten, mink, otter, polecat, or weasel does not technically refer to a specific species. These are just vague common names—some of which are polyphyletic. If pursuing accuracy, it is good practise to be specific about a mustelid’s species when possible, especially when portraying them for international educational purposes, since they do not all share the same characteristics.
For example, though they are both often simply called otters, a Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) is profoundly different from a sea otter (Enhydra lutris). The species listed below are primarily grouped by common name rather than clade.
While it is true badgers are commonly found in media, more than half that appear are European badgers. There are 6 other true badger species and 2 of their distant relatives we rarely see.
• Caucasian Badger (M. canescens)
• Greater Hog Badger (A. collaris)
• Japanese Badger (M. anakuma)
• Northern Hog Badger (A. albogularis)
• Sumatran Hog Badger (A. hoevenii)
– North American Badger (T. taxus) Unfortunately, most people in North America are more familiar with the European badger than their own native “badger” species. It is not uncommon to see the North American badger mistakenly depicted as a European badger. Even some zoos have made this mistake on their exhibit signs!
– Ratel (M. capensis) Similar to the North American badger, the ratel (a.k.a honey badger) is also sometimes erroneously depicted as a European badger.
These species are the rarest of all mustelids in media. However, it is understandable given how incredibly obscure they are, and new species of ferret-badger (like the Vietnamese ferret-badger) are still being discovered today. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to see how these species would be depicted in media. There are currently 6 species recognised.
• Bornean Ferret-Badger (M. everetti)
• Burmese Ferret-Badger (M. personata)
• Chinese Ferret-Badger (M. moschata)
• Formosan Ferret-Badger (M. subaurantiaca)
• Javan Ferret-Badger (M. orientalis)
• Vietnamese Ferret-Badger (M. cucphuongensis)
Fisher (P. pennanti)
The fisher is an odd sort. They look similar to martens, and chances are if one were to choose between creating a fisher or species of marten character, the latter would be the more popular choice. To date we have only found a couple of fiction books featuring a fisher.
There are also a lot of far-fetched myths and rumours about the fisher that could be cleverly addressed by a content creator who is truly knowledgeable about the species.
Both the greater and lesser grison are rarely thought of outside South America, and even then they are not exactly common. They share a slight resemblance to the ratel, but are unique by their smaller stature and more weasel-like structure.
Despite being generally viewed in a more positive light than weasels, martens are seldom seen in media. Search about and all you are likely to find are a few animated characters from obscure series or educational books about martens, and even then those are quite limited. Although they are still rare species outside of visual arts, keep in mind there are other species of marten in existence besides the North American marten and Eurasian pine marten. Other species of marten include:
• Japanese Marten (M. melampus)
• Nilgiri Marten (M. gwatkinsii)
• Yellow-Throated Marten (M. flavigula)
North American Mink (N. vison)
North American minks rarely receive attention since they are often overshadowed by otters being the focus of semi-aquatic mustelids. This is unfortunate, since their multiple abilities and often misunderstood ways would easily make them interesting characters. There have been a few fictional books written with North American minks as main characters, but most of them were written during the early to mid 20th century and are well out-of-print.
North American minks are usually depicted very uncharacteristically in art and animation. Most people only recall Warner Bros’ Minerva Mink, which may partly explain why whenever we see anthropomorphic mink characters they are usually given tall horse-like ears, instead of the low-set rounded ones they do have. It is also rare to find North American mink characters that have natural brown fur with the distinctive white patch on the chin, rather than fur farm-bred colours like solid white (excluding albino), beige, grey, speckled black and white, or any other variation. Minerva has been the image of minks in art and animation for so long, that some people unfamiliar with the real animals truly are not aware that their natural predominant colour is not white.
Due to their visual appeal and sociable nature, otters tend to be disproportionately represented in media compared to other mustelids. However, most species of otter that receive attention are the Asian small-clawed otter, Eurasian otter, North American river otter, and (depending on the media) even the sea otter. There are 9 other otter species that tend to be overlooked.
• African Clawless Otter (A. capensis)
• Congo Clawless Otter (A. congicus)
• Giant Otter (P. brasiliensis)
• Hairy-Nosed Otter (L. sumatrana)
• Neotropical River Otter (L. longicaudis)
• Smooth-Coated Otter (L. perspicillata)
• Southern River Otter (L. provocax)
• Spotted-Necked Otter (H. maculicollis)
Polecats are weasels, just generally heavier, bulkier, and larger in size. There have been several ferrets depicted in media, but their wild polecat cousins are some of the rarest gems. Unfortunately, it is rare for creators to put originality into this group, since they are usually depicted as generic ferrets across the board. Truth is, the characteristics of ferrets are profoundly different from that of wild polecats. Here are 6 other polecats of the genus Mustela and 3 of their distant relatives you may have not heard of:
• European Mink (M. lutreola) — Despite the name, this species is genetically closer to a polecat than the North American mink.
• European Polecat (M. putorius)
• Japanese Weasel (M. itatsi) — This species was placed here due to sharing a genetic similarity to polecats.
• North American Polecat (M. nigripes) — More commonly called the black-footed ferret, though they are not actually ferrets.
• Siberian Weasel (M. sibirica) — This species was placed here due to sharing a genetic similarity to polecats.
• Steppe Polecat (M. eversmanii)
– Marbled Polecat (V. peregusna)
– Saharan Striped Polecat (I. libycus)
– Striped Polecat (I. striatus)
Tayra (E. barbara)
Similar to the greater and lesser grison, the tayra is predominantly known in Latin America. Their long limbs make them stand out from their similar-looking marten cousins. They would certainly make interesting characters and it is a shame we rarely see them appear in media.
While it is true after visiting our Mustelids in Media page that weasels have not exactly been ignored in media, the majority of the weasels that appear are least weasels, species of stoats, or just your generic weasel. Collectively, there are 8 other weasel species of the genus Mustela and Neogale (excluding polecats) and 2 of their distant relatives that share a similar common name we seldom see.
• Colombian Weasel (N. felipei)
• Indonesian Mountain Weasel (M. lutreolina)
• Long-Tailed Weasel (N. frenata)
• Mountain Weasel (M. altaica)
• Stripe-Backed Weasel (M. strigidorsa)
• Yellow-Bellied Weasel (M. kathiah)
– African Striped Weasel (P. albinucha)
– Patagonian Weasel (L. patagonicus)
Wolverine (G. gulo)
Despite being a very distinguishing mustelid that is often sensationalised to the point of absurdity, chances are you will come across the X-Men character in your online search for a wolverine more so than the actual animal. This character has managed to steal the limelight from actual wolverines so much so, that some believe a wolverine is a species of wolf, or some type of fictional “wolf man” and does not actually exist. Despite being known to others as the most powerful mustelid of the North, we do not see many wolverines appearing in media.