Generally has dark brown fur with creamy underfur that shows through. Thin dark brown/blackish coat in summer, but thicker paler coat in winter. Dark facial ‘bandit’ mask (dark always extends down to nose). There is white fur on muzzle, ‘eyebrows’ and ear margins. Long neck and body with short legs. Body length of 32-45cm and tail length 12-19cm.
Droppings have the typical twisted mustelid appearance. They are similar to American mink droppings but contain no fish remains and some plant material. Approximately 60-80mm long and 10mm thick.
Smell: Foul smelling; like foetid meat, a distinctly unpleasant smell.
Found throughout most of Wales and central England. (Maps are based on expert advice, as of 2007. Some species ranges may have changed in the time since. We are currently in the process of updating the maps.)
Food varies but mostly vertebrates and dominated by mammals. Also eats birds’ eggs, fish and will eat variety of invertebrates.
5 years on average.
American mink (Neovison vison)
American mink is a very similar size to the polecat. Mink is usually all dark brown besides a white patch under the chin. Polecat generally has blackish fur with creamy underfur that shows through, with a dark bandit mask over pale fur on the face.
Pine Marten (Martes martes)
Pine marten is larger than polecat and the ears are larger and more conspicuous. Pine marten is dark brown with a paler cream/yellow bib down the throat and chest. Polecat has white band above the eyes and around the mouth, creating the appearance of a bandit mask, the pine marten does not have these facial markings. The pine marten has a much longer tail which is bushier than that of the polecat.
Pure polecats have patches or a band of pale fur above the eyes and around the mouth, creating the appearance of a bandit mask (in pure polecat the dark always extends down to the nose). Polecat-ferret often has paler body fur has faded facial markings. Pure polecat has blackish fur with a cream underfur that shows through. Polecat-ferret may have cream patches on the throat which a pure polecat would not have. It is very difficult to distinguish between the two without genetic testing.
Kate Williamson, Eryri Ecology, says:
“My first experience of polecats was a population dynamics study of the species on a large sand dune system in North West Wales. The landscape was like something out of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Was it really the place to start looking for this species, typically more associated with agricultural land, woodland and other mixed habitats? A recent national survey, carried out by VWT in the 1990s, had used live trapping on a 1km square grid with success. So, we decided to go with their methodology as a first attempt to establish whether the species was present and get an indication of numbers. They had typically found a single individual per kilometre, occasionally more, up to a maximum of 6 animals. My expectations were high. There was a good chance that I was going to be successful in catching my target animal. Little did I realise, not only was I to manage to catch a polecat, but by the end of the 7 day trapping period I would have caught up to 18 different animals. There was some slight discrepancy in numbers due to the marking technique with stock marker, which did not work quite as well as we’d hoped. However, on one day, 11 of the 16 traps had animals in them so there were definitely 11 individuals. What a coup and what an amazing introduction to live trapping mustelids. Needless to say, I have never been so successful again in all the years since. Still, I know they are out there…”
*Please note: A license for the SNCO is needed for live trapping studies of polecats