7 things you never knew about the polecat

Discover fascinating facts about the polecat. 

© Frank Greenaway/The Vincent Wildlife Trust

© Frank Greenaway/The Vincent Wildlife Trust

1. Family ties


Polecats belong to the carnivore family mustelidae, which also includes otters, weasels, martens, mink, badgers and wolverines.

2. Name and shame

Polecats are known for their pungent odour. Indeed, their common name may derive from old European words for foul-smell.

3. Shakespearean tragedy

A line in The Merry Wives of Windsor suggests that the polecat’s reputation wasn’t so good in Shakespeare’s time: “Out of my door, you witch, you hag, you baggage, you polecat, you runyon!

4. Going native

It’s unclear whether polecats are native to UK. They are one of only three British mammals not to have a Celtic-derived Welsh name, the other two being the fallow deer and rabbit – both introduced.

5. Fall and rise

Once widespread in Britain, polecats were hunted almost to extinction by gamekeepers in the 1900s. Since the 1950s, they have been recolonising England from a refuge in Wales. They have also been reintroduced to Scotland.

6. Wild thing

Polecats are the wild ancestors of domestic ferrets, which were bred for hunting rabbits. Ferrets generally have smaller brain cases than polecats, a less distinctive face ‘mask’ and more pale patches in their pelt.

7. Friend or foe?

A self-sustaining population of feral ferrets has established itself on Shetland. In New Zealand, where they were introduced to control rabbits (themselves introduced), feral ferrets are suspected of spreading TB to native and agricultural animals.


Find out more about how to take part in the Vincent Wildlife Trust National Polecat Survey.