European polecats are in the spotlight here today at Light Future Art! Enjoy!
1. The European polecat lives in Northern African, Western Asia, and throughout most of Europe. They prefer to live in marshes, forests, sea cliffs, and riverbanks, as well as near and on farmed land.
2. The polecat’s name comes from French “poul chat”, meaning “chicken cat”, referring to the way that polecats eat chickens. Polecats are actually mustelids rather than cats and close relatives of ferrets and weasels.
3. Another possible origin of the polecat’s name is “foumart” in Middle English, meaning “foul marten”. This is because polecats have a strong odor. Regardless of whether this is the root of their name, their scientific name is without doubt: Mustela putorius.
4. Polecats are usually solitary animals. A mother will live with her children. They live in disused burrows dug by badgers or foxes, and usually have a few sites scattered throughout their territory. A group of polecats is called a cline.
5. Polecats are generally carnivorous and scavenge for their food. They prey of rodents and rabbits. However, if food is scarce, they will also eat insects and fruit.
6. Polecats are the only ancestors of ferrets and have been domesticated by humans for thousands of years. Greek and Roman writers mention their help with hunting small animals. It is possible that polecats are not native to Britain and were brought there by humans as companions.
7. Polecats are able to interbreed with ferrets, which is a threat to their populations. Because the offspring of polecats and ferrets are sterile, such interbreeding weakens the genetic pool for polecats.
8. Polecat babies don’t open their eyes until they are about a month old! After this, they follow their mothers for another month to observe how she fends for herself, learning along the way. At two months of age, they are usually ready to take care of themselves.
9. For a long time, polecats were called “vermin”. Now their reputation is improving and most of their deaths are accidental. Although they are classified as “least concern” now, their populations are decreasing. The exact population size is unknown but it is believed to be large and distributed over a wide range.
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