Polecat

©Elliot Smith

Polecat

Scientific name: Mustela putorius
Known for its bandit-like appearance, the polecat was once so persecuted it was on the brink of extinction in the UK. Thankfully, numbers are now increasing in rural Wales and parts of England.

Species information

Statistics

Length: 32-45cm
Tail: 12-19cm
Weight: 0.5-1.9kg
Average lifespan: 5 years

Conservation status

Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see

January to December

About

A member of the mustelid family, which includes the stoat and badger, the polecat is roughly the size of a ferret - its domesticated cousin. Brought to the brink of extinction through persecution, the polecat has been undergoing a recovery recently and can be found in rural Wales and parts of England.

Polecats set up home in lowland wooded habitats, marshes, along riverbanks, or even in farm buildings or dry stone walls. They particularly prey on rabbits and may be found in rabbit burrows. They have one litter of five to ten young a year in early summer.

How to identify

The polecat has a two-tone coat: dark brown guard hairs cover a buff-coloured underfur. It has a distinct bandit-like appearance, with white stripes across its dark face. It has a short, dark tail and rounded ears. Polecats do sometimes produce young with escaped ferrets; these hybrids tend to have lighter, creamier fur on their back and more white on their faces, extending past their ears.

In our area

The polecats in Shropshire have displaced escaped hybridised ferrets and have been recorded right across the county. Like all members of the mustelid family of mammals (excluding badgers), polecats are unpredictable to spot but can sometimes be seen hunting for rabbits along vegetated river banks and hedgerows. If you do see a polecat, let Shropshire Mammal Group know by emailing the location and time of sighting to smgrecord@gmail,com

Distribution

Found in Wales, parts of Scotland, and parts of central and southern England.

Did you know?

Perceived as bloodthirsty animals, polecats were declared vermin during the reign of Elizabeth I and the name 'polecat' was used to refer to vagabonds. Despite their reputation as pests of poultry, polecats eat small rodents, frogs, birds and snakes during their nocturnal hunting forays. They will slowly stalk their prey, seizing it and killing it with a swift bite to the neck.

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