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Atlas der Säugetiere Nordrhein-Westfalens

AG Säugetierkunde in NRW

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European polecat

Rote Liste NRW: V Vorwarnliste

Mustela putorius




Foto: Jan Ole Kriegs/LWL
The European Polecat also called Forest Polecat is a mid-sized mustelid with a body weight of about 0.5 — 2 kilograms. The most striking characteristic is its light-coloured facial mask, light-coloured muzzle and light-coloured ear margins. The rest of the body is coloured dark with a typical light undercoat. The species is especially active at night and at dusk and thus only rarely seen. European Polecats live solitarily; closer contacts with conspecifics take place mostly during the mating period. Even if the European Polecat is less territorial then, for example, the Stone Marten, it marks its territories with the aid of its intensively smelling anal gland secretion, which is also released during great distress, hence the saying smells like a Polecat and its nickname Stinking Polecat.
The species uses structurally rich landscapes with flowing and standing bodies of water and wetlands as habitat. The main diet of the European Polecat in our latitudes is small mammals and amphibians. In general the species displays a broad dietary spectrum that includes rabbits, reptiles, birds, earthworms and plants (especially fruits) as well as carrion. Regular food supplies are established in protected places. Hiding places are located above ground (for example under downed wood, in tree cavities or in leaf piles), as well as underground, for example in fox, badger or rabbit burrows. In part their own burrows are constructed. Especially in winter, buildings may also be occupied. Potential enemies of the species are foxes, domestic and wild cats, dogs, and the Eurasian Eagle Owl. Dry summers and very cold winters can also make life hard for the European Polecat. Anthropogenic losses are caused especially by car traffic and hunting. Beyond that the loss of structural diversity and intensive agricultural use, removal of woodland structures and borders, as well as the drainage of wetlands to a reduction of habitat quality for the European Polecat as well as for its prey items. Additionally high pesticide loads were detected in part in the species.

The European Polecat is distributed area wide in NRW with a main area of distribution in the northern and western parts of the state (Westphalian and Lower Rhenian lowlands and Westphalian Bay area). Based on the hunting statistics for game animals (dead recovery without hunting), a more or less stable population is assumed for the last 15 years. Hunting statistics from the time of 1938/39 with a hunting bag more than four times that of current numbers suggest that this development cannot just be traced to the different hunting intensity but also to a population decline.


Meike Hötzel


Hötzel M (2023): Iltis (Mustela putorius).In: AG Säugetierkunde NRW — Online-Atlas of the mammals of North Rhine-Westphalia. Downloaded from saeugeratlas-nrw.lwl.org on 2023/03/27



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