orchid_b's picture

Polecat or Ferret

Observed: 10th May 2010 By: orchid_borchid_b’s reputation in Mammalsorchid_b’s reputation in Mammals

Is this a Polecat or a Ferret,or hybrid?

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Milvus's picture

I suspect that this might be

I suspect that this might be a hybrid (but with an awful lot of polecat in it!), based on the amount of pale around the muzzle and head - but these are, in my limited, and no doubt flawed opinion, really difficult animals to 100% id. I found a fresh corpse a few years ago on an isolated moorland road in west Durham, many miles from the nearest settlement. It looked, to me like a certain polecat, and I was quite excited by the find. I sent the corpse away for checking only to find that, based on various morphological features (including skull width and other measurements) that it was an 'obvious' hybrid. A good learning experience for me.

Always really interesting to see close-up photographs like this one, is it of a fresh corpse (road casualty?)?

Rob Coleman's picture

I think Milvus is right about

I think Milvus is right about this - a polecat-ferret. The pinkish nose would suggest not a true polecat?

Rob Coleman

Kluut's picture

Impossible to say

As Milvus says, it is not possible to say.
Pure ferrets come in every colour and pattern imaginable, so they are of no help.
What are the chances that it might be a polecat where it was found - posible but not very likely for Dorchester?
Again as Milvus suggests, even experts have to use detailed measurements to determine what any animal is.
The debate over what is a ferret and what a polcat continues anyway - currently they seem to be regarded as the same species (I think), in which case the differences are only those due to domestication.


A review of the polecat in Britain in British Widlife, Vol 20 No. 4, states that the only reliable way to differentiate between them "whole" is subtle pelage details. The article also shows a pure polecat in summer pelage which has a white muzzle but otherwise entirely dark head.
The nose colour in the photo' APPEARS very similar to that in some photo's of pure polecats. What pure polecats do not have is very pink noses.
British Wildlife also has other articles about polecats, but I can't currently find them.

the naturalist man's picture

Polecat/ferret hybrid

As mentioned above this is most likely a polecat/ferret hybrid or a ferret.

The washed out look to the pelage colouration indicates ferret, as does the pinkish nose.

However, the distance between the eyes looks more polecat. A key measurement is the width of the scull bone between the eye sockets, the larger it is the more likely the animal is a polecat. Although, without actual measurements it is very subjective. Even then there is overlap and you have to consider skull length, sex and subtle differences in pelage patterns to be absolutely sure.

In Dorchester you are on the very edge of the New Forest/Dorset heathland stronghold of polecats. Therefore, pure polecat is unlikely, but not impossible, and polecat/ferret hybrid is a possibility. BUT you can not rule out pure ferret.

In conclusion, I can say it is not a polecat (washed out colouration and pinkish nose) but can not say if it is pure ferret or a ferret/polecat hybrid). As Kluut says it is now widely accepted that the ferret is a domesticated polecat and the differences are due to thousands of years of selective breeding; just as a dog is a domesticated wolf, or considered to be by most scientists. You can then justifiably ask the question "are ferrets really a separate species?", but that is a question for a different forum:


Graham Banwell

Visit the iSpot Yorkshire forum for information on events, issues and news relating to 'God's own country'

bobthebirder's picture

polecats vs ferrets

From my limited experience (I used to keep polecat-type ferrets) I would say this is a ferret. But I'm not sure what Graham means by "pure ferret" as all ferrets have polecat ancestors and ones that look like this presumably have more recent polecat ancestors. Anecdotedly I have heard of ferret breeders deliberately allowing their ferrets to mate with wild polecats to "improve the stock". See http://www.ispot.org.uk/node/23629 for a photo of an animal that shows the black and ginger coat that I have never seen in a ferret (they always look black and buff) but have seen in supposedly wild polecats in collections.

Bob Ford

Kluut's picture

Polcat- ferret crosses

Claims that people have polecat - ferret crosses have probably always been with us and they certainly go back to when finding a wild polecat in the UK would have been akin to finding a unicorn. (It wouldn't be that easy now, although claimed pure polecats ought to be available via the zoo network as several have them as exhibits).
The fact that ferrets frequently have polecat-like appearance need show no more than the fact that ferrets still carry the relevant genes, just as domestic dogs can show wolf-like coats (whatever that might mean as wolves are so variable), with no need of a cross with a wolf.

orchid_b's picture

my polecat ferret

Thanks to all for the helpful answers. I'll send the record in as a probable polecat-ferret.

This is the second corpse of this type I have found in Dorset but the first, near Corfe Mullen, was too squashed to do anything with. Polecats are on the increase in Dorset.

I had to stop the traffic on the Dorchester bypass in the morning rush hour to pick this up, but they all seemed very understanding when I waved the corpse at them from the middle of the road, shouting 'polecat' or something similar back at me.

Mr biodiversity monitor will get the corpse!

Jamie from Briantspuddle