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European Polecat (Mustela putorius)

Diputación de Málaga
Turón NT JB

European Polecat (Mustela putorius)

Reproduction Zeal Topping Hibernation
Animal Life > Mammals


It is a small carnivore (head-body length 31 to 45 cm), with an elongated body, short legs and a long tail (12 to 19 cm). It has a dark coat, from brown to dark, the belly and the flanks are lighter. It wears a white mask covering its snout and mouth. It has small rounded ears, white on the edges. Females are a bit smaller than males.

Where does it live?

This species is present in areas with forest cover. It also lives in holm oak forest edges or dispersed scrub, crops, and generally always with an abundance of barrages, available water and a great vegetation cover. It avoids mountain and dry areas.

How does it live?

It is an animal with nocturnal habits, although it has some activity peaks at dusk and twilight. Its main prey are rabbits and water rats, although it can also consume other rodents, small birds, eggs, amphibians, fishes, fruits and even carrion. It is a solitary animal, with territories ranging up to 4 km2. They only meet during the mating period. They can swim, dive and climb very well.  When they are walking or running, they always have the back slightly raised. They live in burrows (ferret burrows) that it digs nearby the rabbit’s own burrows, sometimes reusing those of this species.

How does it reproduce?

Polecats go into heat at the end of winter or the beginning of spring, this period being able to last until the early summer.  They are violent during this stage. Males fight for females and then submit them during the coupling, biting them on the neck and pulling them forward. They only have one litter per year. Births are concentrated in the middle of spring. From 2 to 7 offspring are born in each litter. The mothers protect their offspring and accompanies them only during their first three months of life.

Where can we see it in Málaga?

This species is present all over the province, although it is not very abundant and its distribution is quite unknown. It is linked to the main streams banks of the province. It can be observed, being somewhat more prevalent, on the Villanueva de Algaidas to Alameda road edges, associated to forest slopes where rabbits are abundant. In the Great Path (Gran Senda), we can observe it on stages 15 to 16.

Curious facts

Polecats are animals with a great sense of smell but poor eyesight. They release a very bad smell. This is because they are very dirty. They accumulate food waste and excrements in ferrets burrows. Moreover, just like skunks, they have anal glands that they use as a means of defence. Like all the mustelids, they are very playful animals with a "safety lock" mechanism in the jawbone.  It has a closure system that prevents the mouth from opening when they catch a prey or when they play. The jaw and the skull fit in such a way that they form a hinge that is very difficult to separate. That is why they hardly release its prey when they catch it; the hunters know it very well and use this animal to hunt rabbits in burrows.

Similar species

It is an unmistakable species.

More information