Living Organisms / Animalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Carnivora / Mustelidae / Mustela / Species
Mustela putorius - Polecat (Click photographs/illustrations: full picture & further details)
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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

Probably ancestor of Domestic ferret - Mustela furo (B141).
  • European polecat (B147)
  • Foul marten
  • Fitch (name for pelt)
  • Ffwlbart (Welsh)
  • Putois d'Europe (French)
  • Europäischer Iltis (German)
  • Gemeiner Iltis (German)
  • Waldiltis (German)

Alternative species names (the second part of the binomial species names): [Genus] amibigua; [Genus] angustifrons; [Genus] bicolor; [Genus] gracilis; [Genus] interrupta; [Genus] larvatus; [Genus] leucoparia; [Genus] lucasona; [Genus] microdon; [Genus] mupurita; [Genus] olympica; [Genus] phenax; [Genus] putida; [Genus] quaterlinearis; [Genus] ringens; [Genus] saxatalis; [Genus] striata; [Genus] tenuis; [Genus] texensis; [Genus] tibetanus; [Genus] zorilla (B141).

Names for new-borns / juveniles

Kit, kitten, polekitten
Names for males Hob
Names for females Jill, jen.

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General Appearance

Long slender, sinuous body, long neck, small flattish head with blunt face and small ears, short legs, slightly bushy tail less than 25% of head-body length. Dark brown/purplish black coat with grey undercoat and distinct facial mask (B142, B148, D30).

Similar Species

Other mustelids.
  • Distinguished from Mustela vision - Mink: mink lacks facial mask, pale ear markings and bicoloured guard hairs.
  • Distinguished from Polecat-ferret: polecat-ferret is usually paler.
  • Distinguished from Martes martes - Pine marten: pine marten is larger with white or cream 'bib', larger ears, longer bushy tail and lacks facial mask.

(B142, B148, D30).

Sexual Dimorphism Male larger, muzzle thicker (B142)

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Species Author

Debra Bourne

Major References

B51, B141, B142, B143, B144, B147, B148, B221


Husbandry references:

(UK Contacts)

(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

  • --

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TAXA Group (where information has been collated for an entire group on a modular basis)

Parent Group

  • Mustelids

Specific Needs Group referenced in Management Techniques

  • Mustelids

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Husbandry Information


  • Adapt well to captivity if caught as young animals (B147).
  • Easy to breed (B147).
Individual Techniques linked in Wildpro

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Appearance / Morphology

Measurement & Weight

Length Head-body length:
  • Males: 330-450mm mean 398mm (B142); 295-460mm (B147); 14-18in./35-46cm (B144).
  • Females 335-385mm mean 367mm (B142); 205-385mm (B147); 12-16in./30-40cm (B144).
Height --
Adult weight General --
Male 800-1710g mean 1111g (B142); 405-1,710g (B147); 35-54oz./1-1.5kg (B144)
Female 530-915g mean 689g (B142); 205-915g (B147); 23-29oz./0.65-0.82kg (B144).
New-born weight 9-10g (B142, B147); 0.3-0.4oz./7-12g (B144).
Growth rate Adult size by autumn (B142).

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  • Ears: shall, rounded with white edge (D30).
Dentition (Teeth)
  • I 3/3 C 1/1 P 3/3 M 1/2 (B142).
  • Upper carnassials long and narrow, upper molars transversely elongated (B142).
  • Sometimes supernumerary incisors or other variations in dentition (B142).
  • Small.
  • Iris: dark brown.


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Legs and Tracks

Hind foot:
  • Male 53-68mm mean 60.4mm, Female 51-58mm mean 53.1mm (B142).
  • Ear Male 22-29mm mean 26.1mm, Female 21-24mm mean 22.7mm (B142).

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Less than 25% of head-body length. Slightly bushy (D30).


  • Male 125-165mm mean 149mm (B142); 105-190mm (B147); 4.8-6.8in./12-17cm (B144).
  • Female 125-145mm mean 133mm (B142); 70-140mm (B147); 3.2-6in./8-15cm (B144).

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Coat / Pelage

Adult Female
  • Guard hairs: Dark brown to purplish black.
  • Undercoat: visible through guard hairs, shoulders and forelimbs, rump and hindlimbs, tail all greyish buff, rest of body buff.. (Undercoat also described as pale yellow or white to yellow).
  • Head: ear edges, chin patch (extending onto muzzle), cheek patches between eyes and ears, all white or greyish-white.

(B142, B144, B147, B148, D30)

Variations (If present)
  • Reddish (erythristic) guard hairs - red pigment replacing normal black (B142).
  • Increased white of chin patch probably due to ferret genes (B142).


  • Increased facial markings - frontal band across forehead becomes white, cheek patches may extend down to join chin patch. Thicker coat.

(B142, B144)

Moult --
New-born / Juvenile
  • New-born (one week old): silky white coat (B142).
  • Juvenile (3-4 weeks old): woolly coat. General: cinnamon brown-greyish. Ear tips, parts of muzzle: white (B142).
  • 50 days old: similar to adult (B142).

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Neonate (New-born) Characteristics

Head-body length 55-70mm, tail length 14-15mm, blind, ears closed. (B142).

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Detailed Anatomy Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

  • Reproductive: 3-5 pairs of teats (B144).
  • Scent glands: Paired spherical anal glands at base of tail (B142).

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Life Stages / Natural Diet / Physiology

Reproductive Stages

Breeding Season
  • Mating late March to April (B142).
  • March to June (B147, B148).
  • May be affected by both latitude and climate (B142).
Oestrus / Ovulation
  • May remain in oestrus up to 6 weeks if not mated.
  • Induced ovulation.
  • (B142)
  • Heat 3-5 days (B147).
Gestation / Pregnancy About 42 days (B142, B147); 40-42 days (B144).
Parturition / Birth Usually late May to June (B142, B148).
Neonatal development
  • Birth: eyes and ears closed.
  • One week: thin silky white coat.
  • 3-4 weeks woolly brown coat.
  • Three weeks: weaning starts.
  • One month: weaned.
  • Start of fifth week: eyes open.
  • 7-8 weeks: eruption of permanent teeth begins.
  • 11-13 weeks: eruption of permanent teeth completed.
  • 2-3 months: independent.

(B142, B144, B147, B148).

Litter size 2-12. Usually 3-7 (B147); usually 5-10 (B142).4-7, maximum 12 (B144).
Time between Litters / Litters per year One litter per year (B142).

In some regions (e.g. Russia) may be re-breed if litter lost (B142).

Lactation / Milk Production Maximum ten active mammary glands (B142); Weaned about one month (B144).
Sexual Maturity
  • Year following birth (B142).
  • First or second year of life (B147).
  • In first year (B144).
Longevity Usually 4-5 years (B142) 5-6 years (B144, B147) in wild, 8-10 years and up to 13-14 years in captivity (B142, B144, B147, B148).

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Natural Diet

  • Lagomorphs, small rodents, birds, amphibians (frogs), snakes.
  • Also birds eggs, invertebrates.
  • Fish more commonly eaten continental mainland than Britain.

(B142, B144, B147, B148)

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Detailed Physiology Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

Temperature --
Pulse --
Respiration --
  • Long and thin (up to 70mm with diameter 5-9mm), cylindrical, slightly coiled, twisted and taper to one end, usually blackish and with characteristic musky odour when fresh.
  • Deposited in latrine near den.


Haematology / Biochemistry --
Chromosomes 2n=40 (B142).
Other --

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Feeding Behaviour

  • Stalk prey, seize, kill with neck bite.
  • Movement of prey important stimulus.
  • Cache food, particularly frogs and toads, bitten at skull base so paralysed.


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Parental Behaviour

Kits tended by female. Independent by 2-3 months old (B142).

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Social Behaviour / Territoriality

  • Generally solitary.
  • Territory of 0.65-3.05km along a stream (radio-tracking information)(B147).
  • Home range about 100-150 hectares - varies depending on habitat/prey availability, sex, social status. Mean 101 hectares.

B142, B147

Inter-specific --

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Sexual Behaviour

  • No courtship, vigorous mating. Male grasps female by neck and drags - stimulates ovulation. Copulation up to 1 hour.
  • Probably promiscuously polygamous.


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Predation in Wild

  • Wolf, lynx, fox, predatory birds (B144).
  • Dogs; possible foxes, raptors (B142).

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Activity Patterns

  • Terrestrial.
  • Can climb and swim.
  • Average daily movement about 1.1km (B147); 3-4km (B142).
  • Rutting males and juveniles more mobile than breeding females .
  • Nervous, easily frightened.
  • Activity centred on dens.
  • 85% of time spent in core 20% of range (B142).
  • Activity affected by weather as well as prey availability; reduced activity in winter.

(B142, B147, B148)

Circadian Predominantly crepuscular and nocturnal, although diurnal activity also occurs, particularly in winter (B142, B144, B147, B148).

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Habitat and Range

General Habitat Type

Variety of habitats.
  • Woodland, forest plantations, wide hedgebanks, meadows, farmland, marginal land, marsh, river banks, sea cliffs, sand dunes.
  • Prefers areas near water.
  • Usually sea level to 520m, occasionally up to 920m. (B142).
  • Particularly in winter, utilise areas near buildings (presence of shelter and prey), similarly rubbish tips.
  • Sometimes found in cities (B142)

(B51, B142, B144, B147, D30)

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Nests / Burrows / Shelters

  • Use crevices, hollow logs, burrows made by other species.
  • Also compartmentalised self-excavated lairs.
  • Use several dens.
  • May shelter under/in buildings in winter.

(B142, B147, B148)

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Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

  • Europe, west of Urals.
  • Not found: northern Scandinavia, Ireland, Mediterranean islands, most of Balkans, eastern Adriatic coast.
  • In Britain: Wales, Marches, Midlands. Range expanding.

(B51, B142, B143, B147, B148, D30).

Occasional and Accidental --

.New Zealand (B147),

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Intraspecific variation

Cross breeding with ferret (Mustela furo or Mustela putorius furo) produces individuals with intermediate colouration (B142, B143).

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Conservation Status

Wild Population -
  • Recent range expansion northwards, eastwards and southwards in eastern part of range (B143).
  • Now recovering in Britain (where formerly near-exterminated) (B142, B143).
  • Decreasing in several western European countries, recent declines: Switzerland, Germany, Denmark (B143, B144).
  • In Britain: native, locally common in Wales and population increasing. Pre-breeding population estimate of about 15,000, with 2500 in England, possibly 0 in Scotland (survival of animals released in Scotland unknown), 12,500 in Wales. Population estimate of this widely-distributed species was based on a limited amount of data and considered likely to be inaccurate by up to 50% in either direction (B221).
General Legislation
  • Bern Convention, Appendix III (B143).
  • EU Habitats & Species Directive, Annex V (B143).
  • Licence required in Britain for trapping and for other forms of killing except shooting (B142).
  • This species is listed on Schedule 6 (Animals which may not be killed or taken by certain methods) of the LUK2 - Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 of the United Kingdom. (W5.Oct01)
CITES listing --
Red-data book listing --
  • Road traffic accidents, secondary rodenticide poisoning.
  • Also human persecution, although less than formerly.

(B142, B143, B221)

Captive Populations  

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