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For other uses, see Polecat (disambiguation).
Polecat in denmark.jpg
European polecat
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Caniformia
Family: Mustelidae
Subfamily: Mustelinae

Polecat is the common name for mammals in the order Carnivora and subfamily Mustelinae. Polecats do not form a single taxonomic rank; the name is applied to several species broadly similar to European polecats, the only species living natively on the British Isles.

In the United States, the term polecat is sometimes applied to the black-footed ferret, a native member of the Mustelinae, and loosely to skunks, which are only distantly related.

Despite the name, polecats are more related to dogs than cats, since they belong to the suborder of Caniformiae.


According to the systematic theory proposing two subfamilies within Mustelidae, the polecats are classified as:

Subfamily Mustelinae

A more recent classification based on genetic analysis suggests that Mustelidae should be divided into eight subfamilies, one of which is the Mustelinae.[1]



Mustela, Neovison (subfamily Mustelinae)

Galictis, Vormela, Ictonyx, Poecilogale (subfamily Galictinae)

Melogale (subfamily Helictidinae)

Eira, Gulo, Martes (subfamily Martinae)

Arctonyx, Meles (subfamily Melinae)

Mellivora (subfamily Mellivorinae)

Taxidea (subfamily Taxideinae)

Note: In much of the United States the word "polecat" is almost exclusively applied to skunks.

Diversity and distribution[edit]

Comparative table of the six polecats in the subfamily Mustelinae.

Polecat Image Distribution Weight Length (including tail)
Striped polecat Striped polecat.jpg Central, Southern, and sub-Saharan Africa 0.6-1.3 kg. 60–70 cm.
Saharan striped polecat Similar colouration to striped polecat North Africa 0.5-0.75 kg 55–70 cm
Steppe polecat Mustela eversmannii 3.jpg Central and Eastern Europe, and Central Asia Males, up to 2.05 kg; Females, 1.35 kg Males, 32–56 cm; Females, 29–52 cm
American polecat Mustela nigripes 2.jpg South Dakota, Arizona, and Wyoming, reintroduced into various U.S. states and northern Chihuahua, Mexico Males, 0.65–1.40 kg; Females, 10% smaller Males, 61–66 cm; Females, 10% smaller
European polecat Polecat in denmark.jpg Western Eurasia and North Africa Middle European Males, 1.0-1.5 kg; Females, 0.65-0.82 kg Males, 44–62 cm; Females, 37–54 cm
Marbled polecat Marbled polecat.jpg Southeastern Europe to western China Males, 0.3-0.7 kg; Females, 0.3-0.6 kg 29–35 cm (head and body)