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Polecat

The polecat population has been recovering for almost a century, after heavy persecution by gamekeepers. Polecats have long bodies and short legs and their fur is two-toned; each hair is creamy-yellow at the base and black at its tip, giving an overall dark brown appearance. They have characteristic white markings on the end of their snout and the tips of their ears. They are mostly active at night and keep to the shelter of forests. They hunt mainly on the ground, relying on hearing and smell, and are poor climbers. Dens may make use of rabbit warrens or badger setts, or spaces under tree roots, and are lined with leaves and grass. When the polecat is frightened or injured, it emits a foul smell from anal glands in an attempt to deter its predators. This gives it its Latin name ‘putorius’, which means ‘foul smelling musk-bearer’.

Head-body length: 30 – 45cm
Tail length: 12 – 14cm
Weight: 600 – 900g
Lifespan: Up to 5 years

Reproduction

Mating occurs from March to April and a litter of 5 – 10 kits is born from May to July. Week-old kits have a thin covering of silky, white fur that is replaced with a brown-greyish coat at 3 – 4 weeks. Weaning begins at three weeks and the young are independent by 2 – 3 months old.

Diet

Rodents, rabbits, frogs and toads, and small mammals. Birds’ eggs, fish, invertebrates and carrion are also sometimes eaten.

Habitat

Various habitats including woodland, coastal dunes, river valleys and often around farmland.

Predators

Sometimes killed by dogs and possibly by foxes and birds of prey.

Threats

Road traffic accidents; trapping; and shooting.

Status & conservation

Native and locally common.

Population size & distribution

UK population 38,500 (fewer than 500 in Scotland). There are indications that their distribution increased across England between 1992 and 2007 but there is no change in the population over the last 10 years. In England, populations are restricted to central and southwest areas, and they are absent from Ireland.

Did you know?

Polecats seize their prey with their canines, killing it with a bite to the neck, which is perfected with practice. They can kill prey as large as a goose or hare.

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