Western Polecat, European Polecat
Be (III); RDBUkr: Неоцінені
Value of species
Mustela putorius mosquensis Heptner, 1966
Mustela putorius putorius Linnaeus, 1758
Some authors (e.g., Pocock 1936, Ellerman and Morrison-Scott 1951) considered that Mustela putorius and Steppe Polecat M. eversmanii are conspecific, but most recognised these two taxa as closely related but distinct species (e.g. Heptner et al. 1967, Abramov 2000, Wozencraft 2005). Recent molecular studies support this point of view (Davison et al. 1999, Kurose et al. 2000, Koepfli et al. 2008). Mustela putorius is the probable ancestor of Domestic Ferret M. furo; this latter is often known as M. p. furo. The origin of the North African population allied to this species has been debated. Some authors contend that it is a feral population of Domestic Ferret, although fossil remains found in 2001 and ascribed to M. putorius suggest that the species might be native to North Africa (see Gippoliti 2011, Ahmim 2013, Griffiths and Cuzin 2013 and references therein). Much information published under the name M. putorius refers specifically to M. furo; for example, only this latter has been introduced to New Zealand (Clapperton 2001).
Western Polecat is widespread in the western Palaearctic east to the Ural Mountains in the Russian Federation; it is absent from Ireland, northern Scandinavia, much of the Balkans, much of the eastern Adriatic coast, and occurs in Greece only marginally, in the north. It is widespread in France, less so in the south-west and south-east (Berzins and Ruette 2014, Calenge et al. 2015), in mainland Spain (Grupo de carnívoros terrestres de la SECEM 2001, Virgós 2007), in Romania (A.D. Sandor pers. comm. 2015) and in many other countries of its range. Since the year 2000 many distribution gaps in the Swiss Midlands and Jura have been filled and in the Grisons the species has expanded its range in the Vorderrhein Valley to almost the Oberalp Pass, and in the Vorderrhein Valley to the Via Mala area (Infofauna 2016).
In Europe, Western Polecat has been recorded from sea-level up to at least 1,600 m a.s.l. in Spain (Virgós 2007) and up to 1,400 m for the French Pyrenees (C. Arthur pers. comm. 2016) and 1,500 m for the French Alps (P. Rigaux pers. comm. 2016); previous statements of occurrence up to 2,000 m a.s.l. in France remain to be corroborated, although in Switzerland there are recent records at altitudes probably above 1900 a.s.l. (P. Dollinger pers. comm. 2016). The African populations occur from sea level to 2,400 m (Griffiths and Cuzin 2013).
Over its wide geographic range, Western Polecat is found in a wide variety of habitats (Zabala et al. 2005 and references therein). It occurs widely in lowland woods and in riparian zones, and in rural areas close to farms and villages in the winter; but it also uses wooded steppe, sand dunes, marshes and river valleys, agricultural land, forest edge and mosaic habitats (Birks 1999, Cabral et al. 2005). In the Russian Federation, which comprises the majority of its global range, waterside habitats are very important for the species (D. Skumatov pers. comm. 2016). In Spain, it lives in a very wide range of environments, from Atlantic to Mediterranean habitats (Virgós 2007, J. Herrero pers. comm. 2015) with again an association with water-edge habitats (Zabala et al. 2005). In general, mountainous areas are avoided. In the French Mediterranean region in particular, Polecat records are much less frequent than elsewhere in the country; the species' presence in this region seems linked to the presence of wetlands (S. Ruette and M. Guinot-Ghestem pers. comm. 2015), as has been found in Italy and Portugal (Rondinini et al. 2006, Mestre et al. 2007).
It feeds on live lagomorphs, rodents (various genera of voles, mice and hamsters), amphibians and other vertebrates, also sometimes on invertebrates and carrion (e.g. Birks 1999). In many Mediterranean areas, it is specialised in the predation of lagomorphs, notably European Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus (Roger 1991, Santos et al. 2009).
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