any of several weasel-like carnivores of the family Mustelidae (which
includes the weasel, mink, otter, and others). The pelt, especially of
the European polecat, is called fitch in the fur trade.
The European, or common,
polecat, also called foul marten
for its odor,
occurs in woodlands of Eurasia and North Africa. It weighs 1–3 pounds and is 14–21 inches long exclusive of the bushy
tail. Its long, coarse fur is brown above, black
below, and marked with yellowish patches on the face. Much lighter fur
distinguishes the masked, or steppe,
polecat of Asia.
Principally terrestrial, the
polecat hunts at night, feeding
on small mammals and birds. It also eats snakes, lizards, frogs, fishes,
and eggs. The polecat is more
powerful than the marten but less active, and it rarely climbs trees.
Its litters of three to eight young are born in the spring after about
two months' gestation. The domestic, albino variety of the European polecat is known as the ferret.
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