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? We hope this list encourages creators to extend some attention to other mustelids.
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.
– 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.
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 incredibly interesting to see how these species would be depicted in media. There are currently 6 species recognised.
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.
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. The greater grison’s black and white fur markings would give it a striking facial appearance in art or animation.
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:
North American mink 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 mink as main characters, but most of them were written during the early to mid 20th century and are well out-of-print.
When it comes to North American mink in art and animation, they are usually depicted very uncharacteristically. Most people only recall Warner Bros’ Minerva Mink, which is probably why many mink characters today are given very tall and horse-shaped 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) or grey. 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 overrepresented 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.
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.
• Japanese Weasel (M. itatsi) — This species was placed here due to sharing a genetic similarity to polecats.
• Siberian Weasel (M. sibirica) — This species was placed here due to sharing a genetic similarity to polecats.
Similar to the greater and lesser grison, the tayra is predominantly known in South America. Their long limbs make them literally stand out from their similar-looking marten cousins. They would certainly make interesting characters, and it is a shame we never 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.
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.