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.
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:
- Genus Ictonyx
- Genus Mustela
- Genus Vormela
- Marbled polecat, V. peregusna
A more recent classification based on genetic analysis suggests that Mustelidae should be divided into eight subfamilies, one of which is the Mustelinae.
Note: In much of the United States the word "polecat" is almost exclusively applied to skunks.
Diversity and distribution
Comparative table of the six polecats in the subfamily Mustelinae.
|Polecat||Image||Distribution||Weight||Length (including tail)|
|Striped polecat||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||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||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||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||Southeastern Europe to western China||Males, 0.3-0.7 kg; Females, 0.3-0.6 kg||29–35 cm (head and body)|