European marbled polecat (Vormela peregusna)

Also known as: Marbled polecat
  
French: Putois Marbré
Spanish: TURÓN BÚLGARO
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
FamilyMustelidae
GenusVormela (1)
SizeHead-body length: 29 - 38 cm (2)
Tail length: 15 - 21.8 cm (2)
Wight: 370 - 715 g (2)

The European marbled polecat is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

One of the most widely distributed small carnivores in Europe and Asia, the European marbled polecat (Vormela peregusna) is a small mustelid with a short muzzle and short, strong limbs with long claws (3) (4). It is strikingly patterned, with the reddish-brown fur on its back being mottled with irregular lines and patches of yellowish fur (2) (4) (5).

The limbs and underparts of the European marbled polecat are dark brown or blackish, and its head is dark brown with a white band across the forehead (2) (4). It has a long, hairy tail, which is dark brown with a yellowish band in the middle, and ends in a black tip (4) (5). The ears of this species are large, rounded and white (4).

During the breeding season the male European marbled polecat undergoes a colour change, with the patches of yellow fur changing to bright orange (2).

The European marbled polecat is widely distributed in Europe and Asia, ranging from northern China and Mongolia in the west, to Bulgaria and Romania in the east (1) (5). Its northern range includes parts of Russia, and it occurs as far south as Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, with some reports of this species also occurring in Egypt (1) (5).

The range of the European marbled polecat usually extends from sea level up to elevations of 2,000 metres, although this species can also live at elevations of up to 3,000 metres in the Tien Shan Mountains in central Asia (1).

The European marbled polecat is mainly thought to inhabit sparsely vegetated desert, semi-desert and steppe habitats (1).

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).

Although the fur of the European marbled polecat has been sought at times by humans, it is not thought to be of major economic importance (2). The major threat to this species is the loss of its natural steppe habitat, which is being converted to farmland in Europe and is undergoing desertification in China (1).

The European marbled polecat is also believed to be declining due to the loss of its rodent prey and due to secondary poisoning by rodenticides (rodent poisons) (1). Its occasional habit of preying on poultry also brings it into conflict with people in parts of its range (2).

The European marbled polecat is listed on Appendix II of the Bern Convention, which means this species must not be captured, killed or traded (9). Hunting for this species is also banned across most of its range and it occurs in a number of protected areas, although it is recommended that these protected areas need to be larger (1).

A major conservation aim for the European marbled polecat is the protection of its natural steppe habitat, with this charismatic species now being used as a flagship species for the conservation of these unique ecosystems (1).

Find out more about the European marbled polecat:

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  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Nowak, R.M. (2005) Walker’s Carnivores of the World. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  3. Dulamtseren, S. et al. (2009) Notes on the distribution of Marbled Polecat Vormela peregusna in Mongolia. Small Carnivore Conservation, 40: 29-32. Available at:
    http://www.smallcarnivoreconservation.org/sccwiki/images/f/f0/SCC40_Dulamtseren_et_al.pdf
  4. Wanda, A. and Lariviere, S. (2005) Vormela peregusna. Mammalian Species, 779: 1-5. Available at:
    http://www.science.smith.edu/msi/pdf/i1545-1410-779-1-1.pdf
  5. Ozkurt, S., Sozen, M., Yigit, N. and Colak, E. (1999) A study on Vormela peregusna Guldenstaedt, 1770 (Mammalia: Carnivora) in Turkey. Turkish Journal of Zoology, 23(2): 141-144.
  6. Hoath, R. (2009) A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo and New York.
  7. Ben-David, M., Pellis, S.M. and Pellis, V.C. (1991) Feeding-habits and predatory behaviour in the marbled polecat (Vormela peregusna syriaca): I. Killing methods in relation to prey size and prey behaviour. Behaviour, 118: 127-143.
  8. Ben-David, M. (1998) Delayed implantation in the marbled polecat, Vormela peregusna syriaca (Carnivora, Mustelidae): Evidence from mating, parturition, and post-natal growth. Mammalia, 62(2): 269-283.
  9. Bern Convention (September, 2011)
    http://www.ogm.gov.tr/Bern.htm