Ferrets & Polecats

Polecats are medium-sized mustelids, with a heavier, bulkier build than the smaller weasels and stoats. Like most mustelids, polecats have short legs and elongated bodies and necks. Most polecats have shaggy fur that grows thicker in the winter but does not change color. They have long claws and are adept at digging burrows and hunting small animals including rodents, lizards, and frogs. Their muzzles are pointed, their ears are low-set and rounded, and their noses range in color from pink to black. All polecats have small, dark brown eyes and long whiskers on their muzzles, wrists, and “eyebrows”. Their pointed upper canine teeth often protrude from their closed mouths as “fangs”. Like other mustelids polecats can emit a foul odor from their anal glands when threatened. Polecats are less agile than the smaller weasels; they move with a bounding gait and can also sit up on their hind legs, and will do so to survey their surroundings.

Some say the purpose of a polecat’s dark facial mask is to reduce sun glare. Other sources believe it helps make their shiny, dark eyes less obvious to other animals; making them inconspicuous.

Common Misconceptions

Despite the name, polecats have no relation to cats. “Pole” probably comes from the old French word “poule”, meaning “hen” or “chicken”; likely in reference to the species’ fondness for poultry, while “cat” was most likely the closest animal people could compare it to due to limited knowledge of the species at the time.

Because of its resemblance to the striped polecat, skunks are sometimes incorrectly called polecats. Skunks are also frequently mistaken for mustelids. They were once included as a subfamily of Mustelidae, but in the late 1990s skunks were given their own classification Mephitidae. (Research: Dragoo and Honeycutt 1997)

(1) American Polecat / Black-Footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes)

Photo by J. Michael Lockhart / USFWS

The American polecat, also known as the black-footed ferret, lives in prairies and preys exclusively on prairie dogs, and as such is extremely endangered. This polecat is not closely related to the domestic ferret but has a similar appearance due to its dark legs and mask. Its fur (primarily tan and cream except for the black legs, tail tip, and mask) is much shorter than the European and marble polecats and it has a thinner, slinkier, more weasel-like appearance with its long neck and larger ears. Black-footed ferrets have distinctive white “eye spots’ in the dark mask over their eyes.

Conservation Status: Endangered

(2) European Mink (Mustela lutreola)

Photo by Nicolai Meyer

The European mink, also known as the Russian mink and Eurasian mink, is a semiaquatic species of mustelid native to Europe. It is similar in colour to the American mink, but is slightly smaller and has a less specialized skull.

The European mink is technically a polecat rather than a mink.

Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

– Source from Wikipedia. The information above needs to be edited with our own words.

(3) European Polecat (Mustela putorius)

Photo by Malene Thyssen

The European polecat, also known as the common ferret, is a species native to western Eurasia and north Morocco. They typically have brown fur, with darker, sometimes black legs, tail, and underside, a dark mask across the eyes, and white around the nose and mouth. Their fur is shaggy, with dark guard hairs over a lighter undercoat, given them a grizzled appearance. Their tails taper to a point and are about one third the length of their body.

European polecats are so adept at hunting in burrows and tunnels that they have been domesticated to hunt rodents and rabbits; the domesticated European polecat is known as a ferret (Mustela putorius furo), and while ferrets were initially albino (white with pink eyes), pet ferrets are now available in a variety of colors, including typical wild polecat markings with a dark mask, legs and tail (referred to as “sable” coloration). Ferrets’ noses can be pink, speckled, dark brown, or black, while wild European polecats usually have black noses. The closely related steppe polecat (Mustela eversmanii) is very similar in appearance to the European polecat, although its fur tends to be lighter, with fewer dark markings.

Size: 35.5-47.7 cm / 14-18 in (males), 27.9-40.6 cm / 11-16 in (females),
Weight: 997-1497 g / 2.2-3.3 lb (males, middle Europe), 635-816 g / 1.4-1.8 lb (females, middle Europe)
Range: Widespread throughout most of Europe to western Russia.
Conservation Status: Least Concern

(4) Ferret (Mustela putorius furo)

Photo by Moody Ferret

Ferrets typically have brown, black, white, or mixed fur. They have an average length of 51 cm (20 in) including a 13 cm (5.1 in) tail, weigh about 1.5–4 pounds (0.7–2 kg), and have a natural lifespan of 7 to 10 years. Ferrets are sexually dimorphic predators with males being substantially larger than females.

People will sometimes associate ferrets with the more aggressive behavior of weasels, when their characteristics are profoundly different. Though a member of the same genus, ferrets are not weasels; despite being given this common nickname. Ferrets have been domesticated for thousands of years, and unlike weasels or their European polecat cousin, they cannot reproduce or survive in the wild – having lost the instinct long ago. Unfortunately, ferrets are prone to the same old negative misunderstandings and cheap scare tactics as other mustelids in media, when they’re no more dangerous than your average dog or cat.

There have been reports that some infants have been bitten by a pet ferret while sleeping, but little adds up as to how a ferret was able to be near a child without parental supervision; regardless of what animal it was. Similar incidents have also been reported about dogs and cats, making these unfortunate events likely isolated cases, rather than general behavior. Due to these and several other misconceptions about ferrets, they are banned as pets in the following areas across the world.

North America: California, Hawaii, District of Columbia, and New York City.
Australia: Queensland, Northern Territory.
Europe: Portugal
Africa: South Africa
Oceania: New Zealand

Conservation Status: Domesticated

– Source from Wikipedia. The information above needs to be edited with our own words.

(5) Steppe Polecat / Masked Polecat (Mustela eversmanii)

Photo credit unknown.

The steppe polecat, also known as the white or masked polecat, is a species native to Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN because of its wide distribution, occurrence in a number of protected areas, and tolerance to some degree of habitat modification.

Conservation Status: Least Concern

– Source from Wikipedia. The information above needs to be edited with our own words.




Although the following are called polecats, they are not closely related to the polecats above.

(6) Marbled Polecat (Vormela peregusna) – Genus Vormela

Photo by  Laszlo Szabo-Szeley © AVESTOURS

The marbled polecat has an unusual and very striking appearance for a mustelid – with brightly-colored fur, a long bushy tail it will curve over its back to appear larger when threatened, and shaggy white fur on its ears. It has a dark brown to black underside, legs and facial mask; with white markings on its muzzle, forehead, and tail. Its back is covered in yellow-orange fur with irregular brown or black spots and markings.

Marbled polecats are solitary animals, and tend to become aggressive when meeting another. When threatened, it arches back its head and bares its teeth, while releasing shrills and short hisses. They tend to dwell in the burrows of large ground squirrels or similar rodents, but may also dig their own dens or live underground. Marbled polecats tend to avoid mountainous regions.

Their natural diet consists of rodents, small hares, birds, small reptiles, amphibians, fish, snails, insects and fruit.

Size: 29-35 cm / 11.4-13.7 in (males)
Weight: 320-715 g / 11-25 oz (males), 295-600 g / 10-21 oz (females)
Range: Southeast Europe to Russia and China.
Conservation Status: Vulnerable

(7) Saharan Striped Polecat (Ictonyx libycus) – Genus Ictonyx

Photo credit unknown.

The Saharan striped polecat, also known as the Saharan striped weasel, Libyan striped weasel, and the North African striped weasel is a species sometimes characterized as being a part of the genus Poecilictis, and its coloration resembles that of the striped polecat.

Conservation Status: Least Concern

– Source from Wikipedia. The information above needs to be edited with our own words.

(8) Striped Polecat / African Polecat (Ictonyx striatus) – Genus Ictonyx

Photo credit unknown.

The striped polecat – also called the African polecat, zoril, zorille, zorilla, Cape polecat, and African skunk.

Conservation Status: Least Concern




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