Marbled polecat
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Mustelidae
Genus: Vormela
V. peregusna
Binomial name
Vormela peregusna
Marbled polecat range

The marbled polecat (Vormela peregusna) is a small mammal belonging to the genus Vormela within the mustelid subfamily Ictonychinae. Vormela is from the German word Würmlein, which means "little worm". The specific name peregusna comes from perehuznya (перегузня), which is Ukrainian for "polecat".[1] Marbled polecats are generally found in the drier areas and grasslands of southeastern Europe to western China. Like other members of the Ictonychinae, it can emit a strong-smelling secretion from anal sacs under the tail when threatened.


Paws, nose and ear, as illustrated in Pocock's The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma - Mammalia Vol 2
Skull of a marbled polecat

Ranging in length from 29–35 cm (head and body), the marbled polecat has a short muzzle and very large, noticeable ears. The limbs are short and claws are long and strong. While the tail is long, with long hair, the overall pelage is short. Black and white mark the face, with a black stripe across the eyes and white markings around the mouth. Dorsally, the pelage is yellow and heavily mottled with irregular reddish or brown spots. The tail is dark brown with a yellowish band in the midregion. The ventral region and limbs are a dark brown.[2] Females weigh from 295 to 600 g (10.4 to 21.2 oz) and males from 320 to 715 g (11.3 to 25.2 oz).[3][4][5]

Distribution and habitat

The marbled polecat is native from southeastern Europe to Russia and China. Its range includes Ukraine, Bulgaria, Georgia, Turkey, Romania, Asia Minor, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, north-western Pakistan, Yugoslavia, Mongolia, China, Kazakhstan, North-Siberian Altai steppes.[1] In 1998, a marbled polecat was recorded on the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt.[6] Marbled polecats are found in open desert, semidesert, and semiarid rocky areas in upland valleys and low hill ranges, steppe country, and arid subtropical scrub forest. They avoid mountainous regions.[3][5] Marbled polecats have been sighted in cultivated areas such as melon patches and vegetable fields.[7]

Behaviour and ecology

The marbled polecat is most active during the morning and evening.[8][3] Its eyesight is weak, and it relies on its well-developed sense of smell.[5] Vocalization is limited and consists of shrill alarm cries, grunts and a submissive long shriek.[9] It is solitary and moves extensively through a home range of 0.5–0.6 km2 (0.19–0.23 sq mi). It generally stays in a shelter once. When encountering each other, they are usually aggressive.[4]

When alarmed, a marbled polecat raises up on its legs while arching its back and curling its tail over its back, with the long tail hair erect. It may also raise its head, bare its teeth, and give shrill, short hisses.[3][5] If threatened, it can expel a foul-smelling secretion from enlarged anal glands under its tail.[5]

To excavate burrows, the marbled polecat digs out earth with its forelegs while anchoring itself with its chin and hind legs. It uses its teeth to pull out obstacles such as roots.[10]

Burrows of large ground squirrels or similar rodents such as the great gerbil (Rhombomys opimus) and Libyan jird (Meriones libycus) are used by marbled polecats for resting and breeding. They may also dig their own dens or live in underground irrigation tunnels.[2][5] In the winter, marbled polecats line their dens with grass.[9]


Marbled polecats mate from March to early June.[8] Their mating calls are most often heard as low, rumbling sounds in a slow rhythm. Gestation can be long and variable (243 to 327 days). Parturition has been observed to occur from late January to mid-March.[3] Delayed implantation allows marbled polecats to time the birth of their cubs for favorable conditions, such as when prey is abundant.[4]

Litter sizes range from four to eight cubs.[8][3] Only females care for the young. Cubs open their eyes around 38–40 days old, are weaned at 50–54 days, and leave their mother (disperse) at 61–68 days old.[4]


Marbled polecats are known to eat ground squirrels, Libyan jirds (Meriones libycus), Armenian hamsters (Cricetulus migratorius), voles, Palestine mole-rats (Spalax lecocon ehrenbergi), house mice (Mus musculus), and other rodents, small hares, birds, lizards, fish, frogs, snails, and insects (beetles and crickets), as well as fruit and grass.[4][8][9][5] They are also recorded as taking small domestic poultry such as chickens and pigeons, as well as stealing smoked meat and cheese.[8][11][12]

Conservation status

In 2008, the marbled polecat was classified as a vulnerable species in the IUCN Red List due to a population reduction of at least 30% in the previous 10 years.[1] In 1996, it had been considered a species of least concern. The decline in marbled polecat populations thought to be due to habitat loss and reduction in available prey due to use of rodenticides.[13][11][14]

Data revealed that from the west to the east, a gradual decrease in morphological diversity was seen in polecat skulls, thus giving location as a factor to diversify the polecats. Also, the data related to the range formation of the species rather than climate change.[15]


The marbled polecat was once sought for its fur, generally known as "fitch" or more specifically, "perwitsky" in the fur trade.[16]


The subspecies of V. peregusna include:


  1. ^ a b c Abramov, A.V.; Kranz, A. & Maran, T. (2016). "Vormela peregusna". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T29680A45203971. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T29680A45203971.en. Retrieved 20 November 2021.
  2. ^ Gorsuch, W. & Larivière, S. (2005). "Vormela peregusna". Mammalian Species. 779: 1–5. doi:10.1644/779.1.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Stroganov, S.U. (1969). Carnivorous mammals of Siberia. Jerusalem: Israeli Program of Scientific Translation. ISBN 0-7065-0645-6.
  4. ^ a b c d e Ben-David, M. (1988). The biology and ecology of the Marbled polecat, Vormela peregusna syriaca, in Israel. Tel Aviv: Tel-Aviv University.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Roberts, T.J. (1977). The mammals of Pakistan. London: Ernest Benn Limited. ISBN 0-19-579568-7.
  6. ^ Saleh, M.A. & Basuony, M. (1998). "A contribution to the mammalogy of the Sinai Peninsula". Mammalia. 62 (4): 557–575. doi:10.1515/mamm.1998.62.4.557. S2CID 84960581.
  7. ^ Novikov, G.A. (1962). Carnivorous mammals of the fauna of the USSR. Jerusalem: Israeli Program of Scientific Translation. ISBN 0-7065-0169-1.
  8. ^ a b c d e Harrison, D. (1968). Mammals of Arabia. London: Ernest Benn Limited.
  9. ^ a b c MacDonald, D.; Barrett, P. (1993). Mammals of Britain and Europe. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0-00-219779-0.
  10. ^ Akhtar, S.A. (1945). "On the habits of the marbled polecat, Vormela peregusna". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 45: 412.
  11. ^ a b Milenković, M.; M. Pavnović; H. Abel; H. J. Griffiths (2000). "The marbled polecat, Vormela peregusna (Güldenstaedt 1770) in FR Yugoslavia and elsewhere". In Griffiths, H. J. (ed.). Mustelids in a modern world: management and conservation aspects of small carnivore and human interactions. Leiden, Netherlands: Backhuys Publishers. pp. 321–329.
  12. ^ Rifai, L.B.; Al Shafee, D.M.; Al Melhim, W.N. & Amr, Z.S. (1999). "Status of the marbled polecat, Vormela peregusna (Gueldenstaedt, 1770) in Jordan". Zoology in the Middle East. 17: 5–8. doi:10.1080/09397140.1999.10637764.
  13. ^ Kryštufek, B. (2000). "Mustelids in the Balkans – small carnivores in the European biodiversity hot-spot". In Griffiths, H.J. (ed.). Mustelids in a modern world: management and conservation aspects of small carnivore and human interactions. Leiden, Netherlands: Backhuys Publishers. pp. 281–294.
  14. ^ Schreiber, A.; Wirth, R.; Riffel, M. & van Rompaey, H. (1989). Weasels, civets, mongooses and their relatives: an action plan for the conservation of mustelids and viverrids. Broadview, Illinois: Kelvyn Press, Inc.
  15. ^ Puzachenko, A.Y.; Abramov, A.V. & Rozhnov, V.V. (2017). "Cranial variation and taxonomic content of the marbled polecat Vormela peregusna (Mustelidae, Carnivora)". Mammalian Biology. 83: 10–20. doi:10.1016/j.mambio.2016.11.007.
  16. ^ Peterson, M. (1914). The fur traders and fur bearing animals. Hammond Press. p. 191.

Further reading