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polecat Polecats

Identify It >   Mammal Section >   Polecats >

Scientific name:  Mustela putorius

Size: From nose to end of tail around 50cm.  The tail is approx 20cm

Distribution: Found throughout Wales and expanding its range from the Midlands out into many of the counties of England and parts of Scotland.  Absent from Ireland

Months seen: All year round

Life Span:  Approx. 5 years

Food: Rabbits, rats, small mammals, frogs and birds

Habitat: Can be found in meadows, moorland, hedgerows, woodlands, open mountains, coastal areas and farmland - sometimes close to farm buildings

Special features: Polecats are members of the weasel family.  They have dark brown fur with a lighter coloured underfur which shows through, especially when they move.  They are similar in appearance to ferrets, and this can lead to some confusion as there are also some hybrid polecat-ferrets in the wild.

As a general rule, true polecats have cream coloured ears and a cream band of fur above the eyes and around their mouths.  The dark fur around their eyes makes them look as if they are wearing a bandit mask.  With true polecats this dark mask extends down to touch the nose.  In many hybrids there is also a patch of cream fur on the neck/chest area, but this is not found in true polecats.

Polecats live in burrows which they can dig themselves, but they often take the easier option and just inhabit burrows vacated by other animals.

Because of their taste for poultry polecats became the enemy of many farmers and gamekeepers.  For this reason polecats were almost hunted to extinction in the last century and became confined to just a few areas in mid Wales.  Attitudes today have changed greatly.  Polecats are frequently seen as helpful to farmers since they are major predators of rats and rabbits, which often pose a much greater problem.

Another common name for the Polecat is "foul marten" because they emit an acrid smelling scent from glands under their tail.  This is used as both a territory marker and also as a defense mechanism.

Mating occurs in April, and young Polecats are born in June.  There is usually only one litter a year which can contain up to 12 babies, known as kittens.  Usually around half the litter survives to weaning.

Polecat babies, or 'kits', are born with whitish fur.  This is replaced by darker fur within three weeks, and within six weeks they are the same colour as the adults.

Male Polecats are called 'hobs' and females are known as 'jills'.  A group of polecats is known as a 'chine'.  There are several ideas in circulation as to where the name 'Polecat' came from.  One is that it relates to the slender and cylindrical pole-like shape of the animal.  Another line of thought is that pole is a variation of the French word 'poule' (hen), referring to the polecats love of poultry.

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