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Polecat is a common name for mammals in the order Carnivora and subfamilies Ictonychinae[1] and Mustelinae. Polecats do not form a single taxonomic rank (i.e. clade). The name is applied to several species with broad similarities to European polecats, the only polecat species native to the British Isles, such as having a dark mask-like marking across the face.

In the United States, the term polecat is sometimes applied to the black-footed ferret, a native member of the Mustelinae. In Southern United States dialect, the term polecat is sometimes used as a colloquial nickname for the skunk, which is only distantly related to mustelids.[2]

Despite their common name, being caniform mustelids, polecats are more closely related to dogs than cats, which is why they are placed in the suborder Caniformia.


According to the most recent taxonomic scheme proposing eight subfamilies within Mustelidae, polecats are classified as:

Subfamily Ictonychinae

Subfamily Mustelinae



Mustela, Neogale (subfamily Mustelinae)

Galictis, Vormela, Ictonyx, Poecilogale (subfamily Galictinae)

Melogale (subfamily Helictidinae)

Eira, Gulo, Martes (subfamily Guloninae)

Arctonyx, Meles (subfamily Melinae)

Mellivora (subfamily Mellivorinae)

Taxidea (subfamily Taxideinae)


  1. ^ Nascimento, Fabio Oliveira do (2014). "On the correct name for some subfamilies of Mustelidae (Mammalia, Carnivora)". Papéis Avulsos de Zoologia. 54 (21): 307–313. doi:10.1590/0031-1049.2014.54.21. ISSN 0031-1049.
  2. ^ "Skunk Fact Sheet" (PDF). The Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division.