Polecat

PolecatPolecat — The European Polecat (Mustela putorius), also known as a fitch, is a member of the Mustelidae family, and is related to the stoats, otters, weasels, and minks. They are dark brown with a lighter bandit-like mask across the face, pale yellow underbody fur, a long tail and short legs. They are somewhat larger than weasels, weighing between 0.7 kg for females to 1.7 kg for males, but smaller than otters.

Polecats are found throughout Europe countries. They are mainly nocturnal and are found in woodlands, farmlands, and wetlands. They often make dens in stream banks or under tree roots. Almost entirely carnivorous, they feed largely on small mammals such as voles and rats and, seasonally, on frogs and toads. Small birds and insects are a much smaller component of their diet. They require a home range of about a square kilometer. The pattern of polecat predation on frogs was found to be sex selective and predation by polecats is found to influence sex ratio, male abundance and sexual conflict in a frog mating system, restricting the opportunity for multiple mating.

Though polecats are chiefly polygynous, females can show polyandry and the sexual conflict aspect of the mating system can change with environmental conditions. Sexual conflict may result in sexually antagonistic co-evolution, in which one sex evolves a “manipulative” character which is countered by a “resistance” trait in the other sex. Deliberate homosexuality has also been observed in wild polecats.

Polecats (mainly dark phenotype) are able to hybridize with the rare European mink and have fertile hybrids. In some parts of England, the abandoning of domestic ferrets has led to ferret-polecat hybrids living in the wild that are almost indistinguishable from pure polecats.

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