Shy and elusive, the European marbled polecat is generally active during the night or at dawn and dusk, with occasional daytime activity having been recorded (2) (3) (6). Outside of the breeding season it is solitary, using its strong paws and claws to excavate its own burrow in which it spends the day (2). The European marbled polecat will also use the burrows of other animals, such as large ground squirrels or other rodents (2) (4).
The European marbled polecat is known to travel up to one kilometre each night in search of food, with its prey including rodents, birds, reptiles and invertebrates (2) (4). It has poor eyesight, and therefore relies mainly on its sense of smell to locate prey (4). As well as using the typical musteline killing method of biting the base of the prey’s neck to severe the spinal cord, the European marbled polecat also uses alternative methods depending on the prey type (7). Small prey are killed with a crushing bite to the chest, whereas defensive prey are typically bitten on the throat (7).
When threatened, the European marbled polecat can emit a foul-smelling secretion from its anal scent glands (2) (4). It will also posture aggressively, with its head thrown back and teeth bared, body hair erect and bristled tail curled back over its body, whilst hissing (2) (4). This display of its contrasting body markings is thought to advertise the presence of its foul anal scent glands to potential predators (2). As well as being aggressive to other European marbled polecats and to predators, this species is fearless in the presence of humans, reacting savagely when caught (4).
Mating in wild European marbled polecats takes place from around March to early June (4). The gestation period is highly variable, lasting 2 months in Russia, and between 8 and 11 months in other areas (4) (8). This variation in gestation length is due to delayed implantation, in which the female delays the implantation of fertilised eggs in order to time the birth of the young to coincide with favourable environmental conditions (4) (8).
The female European marbled polecat gives birth to between four and eight young and these are cared for solely by the female (4). The young are reared in a burrow lined with grass and leaves, are weaned at around 50 to 54 days and disperse at around 61 to 68 days old (2) (4).