Vormela peregusnamarbled polecat

Geographic Range

Marbled polecats are found in areas of southeast Europe, throughout the middle east, and in parts of Asia. Its range extends as far north as Russia and as far east as China. This species is rare across its considerable range. In the middle east, Marbled polecats occur in highest densities in Israel. (Tikhonov, et al., 2008)

Habitat

As a generalist, the marbled polecat can occupy many habitats within its range. They are commonly found in treeless prairies (steppes) and semi-desert areas. These semi-arid areas are generally located at sea level to 3000 m in elevation. In Yugoslavia, marbled polecats are also found in riparian areas and mountain meadows, and in its southern range in Egypt they can be found in sandy areas with some vegetation (Gorsuch and Lariviere, 2005). (Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005; Tikhonov, et al., 2008)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 2,100 m
    0.00 to ft

Physical Description

Marbled polecats have a unique coat that distinguishes it from its relatives, striped polecats, which are black with white stipes, and European polecats, which are mostly brown. Marbled polecats have a black/brown underbelly and a "marbled" dorsal side composed of black/brown, yellow/orange, and red hair. Marbled polecats have a long furry tail, which is black and yellow in color. A large white band spans across their forehead, and their eyes are covered in a black mask. Their white round ears stand out above their head. (Ben-David, et al., 1991; Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005; King, et al., 2007)

Marbled polecats have short legs and long claws used for digging burrows and for digging out prey. Claws on their front limbs are longer, up to 16.7 mm, than claws on their hind limbs. They have 34 sharp teeth that also assist in capturing prey. Head-body measurements of this species range from 288 mm to 477 mm, and their tail adds 145 mm to 201 mm to their total length. Male marbled polecats tend to be heavier than females, up to 715 g in Siberia, but mass varies greatly throughout their range. Females are generally 295 to 600 g, while males are 320 to 715g. (Ben-David, et al., 1991; Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005; King, et al., 2007)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    female 295 g; male 320 to female 600 g; male 715 g
    to oz
  • Range length
    441 to 655 mm
    17.36 to 25.79 in

Reproduction

Although marbled polecats are solitary, this is not the case during the mating season. Little information is otherwise available regarding the mating systems of this species. (Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005)

Marbled polecats come together in the spring to breed (March-June). In captivity, gestation lasts 40 days, but this is often much longer in the wild; gestation may last 8 to 11 months, as marbled polecats exhibit delayed implantation, waiting for favorable environmental conditions to give birth. Young are born in late January to early March and may stay with their mother into June. Litter sizes range from 4 to 8 cubs. The cubs are be able to eat solid food before their eyes open at 38 to 40 days. At 50 to 54 days the young are weaned and disperse soon after 61 to 68 days. The cubs reach full size around 82 days of age. Predatory behavior occurs at an early age. Females mate during their first spring and are able to carry young the following winter. Males reach sexual maturity around one year of age and find mates after their first year. (Ben-David, 1998; Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005; King, et al., 2007)

  • Breeding interval
    Marbled polecats breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Marbled polecats mate between March and June.
  • Range number of offspring
    4 to 8
  • Range gestation period
    56 to 327 days
  • Range weaning age
    50 to 54 days
  • Range time to independence
    61 to 68 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Delayed implantation allows female marbled polecats to select the best environmental conditions in which to give birth. Although cubs feed from their mother until they are weaned, they display predatory behavior and are able to eat solid food before they are weaned. The cubs disperse around 61 to 68 days although not yet fully grown. (Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Little information is available regarding the lifespan of wild marbled polecats. One captive individual, however, was reported to live for 8 years and 11 months. Marbled polecats infested with ticks and/or fleas may become limited in lifespan. (Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    8.9 (high) years

Behavior

Marbled polecats are solitary and generally only tolerate the opposite sex during mating season. They are mostly active during mornings and evenings. Their activities are limited during the day, and they seek shelter unless basking in the sunlight. In captivity, marbled polecats find dark places to rest during daylight hours. Marbled polecats dig dens themselves, but are opportunistic and may make use of den systems of their prey, such as large ground squirrels or great gerbils. Some marbled polecats may use dens for storing food. Marbled polecats do not normally climb or jump, though they can sit or stand on their hind legs. When threatened, they put on a display of aggression by standing their fur on end, arching their back, and raising their tail. They also hiss in aggression and emit long shrieks of submission. Marbled polecats aggressively protect their home range from other polecats and will stand their ground even when humans approach. (Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005)

  • Range territory size
    0.5 to 0.6 km^2

Home Range

Marbled polecats have well-traveled home ranges of 0.5 to 0.6 square kilometers that they aggressively protect from other polecats. (Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005)

Communication and Perception

Marbled polecats have a keen sense of smell, and they emit a strong odor when threatened. In the family Mustelidae, scent marking is the most common form of communication (Wund, 2005). Little information is otherwise available regarding communication of this typically solitary species. When threatened, they emit aggressive hisses. They may also give alarm cries, grunts, and shrieks of submission. (Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005; Wund, 2005)

Food Habits

Marbled polecats are generalists and opportunistic predators (Ben-David, Pellis, and Pellis 1991). Their diet includes a range of rodents such as great gerbils, house mice, ground squirrels, birds, lizards, and even some insects (Gorsuch and Lariviere, 2005; Randall et al., 2005). Predatorial strategy of marbled polecats varies depending on the size and defensiveness of the prey. Marbled polecats approach their prey from the side. They bite small prey on their midsection and large prey on the back of the neck. If their prey struggles, the throat is often targeted.(Ben-David, Pellis, and Pellis, 1991). (Ben-David, et al., 1991; Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005; Randall, et al., 2005)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles

Predation

Although there are no recorded predators of marbled polecats, they display a defensive/ aggressive posture when threatened. They raise their tail, arch their back, and may bare their teeth while growling or hissing. Marbled polecats, like other mustelids, can release a foul smelling odor from an anal gland, which is possibly used as a defensive mechanism. Many marbled polecats are killed by vehicles. (Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005)

Ecosystem Roles

Marbled polecats help control rodent populations in some parts of their range (Gorsuch and Lariviere, 2005). This species may also perform communal hunting with red fox. Marbled polecats are often used as hosts by ticks and fleas. (Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Historically, marbled polecats were kept in shops to help control rodent problems in Kabul. They are on rare occasions kept as pets. Marbled polecats are occasionally trapped in small numbers for their fur, though it has no market value. (Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Marbled polecats may prey on poultry and may also take cheese and meat from humans. (Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005)

Conservation Status

Populations of marbled polecats are declining in many areas of their range, in which they are already uncommon. Habitat destruction, desertification, and the changing of natural habitat to farmland have led to a large reduction in population size (Tikhonov et al. 2008). Human reduction of rodent populations as well as road traffic and hunting are also reducing populations of marbled polecats. Additionally, this species can become infected with ticks and fleas, which is an increasing problem. (Ben-David, et al., 1991; Gorsuch and Larivière, 2005; Tikhonov, et al., 2008)

Other Comments

Although currently six sub-species have been suggested within Vormela peregusna, most of the infra-specific distinctions have been attributed to pelt and region variation (Tikhonov et al., 2008). One study found high genetic homogeneity among several marbled polecats, and their mitochondrial DNA showed no distinctions among specimens from varying regions in their geographic range (Rozhnov et al., 2008). Although this species is distributed over a vast area, the similarities in their genetic makeup remain. This is possibly due to their historically recent expansion (Rozhnov et al., 2008). (Rozhnov, et al., 2008; Tikhonov, et al., 2008)

Contributors

Tyler Petroelje (author), Northern Michigan University, John Bruggink (editor), Northern Michigan University, Gail McCormick (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

delayed implantation

in mammals, a condition in which a fertilized egg reaches the uterus but delays its implantation in the uterine lining, sometimes for several months.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

semelparous

offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5? N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Ben-David, M. 1998. Delayed implantation in the marbled polecat, Vormela peregusna syriaca (Carnivora, Mustelidae): evidence from mating, parturition, and post-natal growth.. Mammalia, 62: 269–283.

Ben-David, M., S. Pellis, V. Pellis. 1991. Feeding Habits and Predatory Behaviour in the Marbled Polecat (Vormela Peregusna Syriaca): I. Killing Methods in Relation To Prey Size and Prey Behaviour. Behaviour, 118: 127-143.

Gorsuch, W., S. Larivière. 2005. Vormela peregusna. Mammalian Species, 779: 1-5.

King, C., H. Kummer, J. Birks. 2007. ""Weasels, Mink, and Polecats" The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Ed. David W. Macdonald." (On-line). Accessed February 24, 2009 at http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t227.e154-ss4.

Randall, J., K. Rogovin, P. Parker, J. Eimesc. 2005. Flexible social structure of a desert rodent, Rhombomys opimus: philopatry, kinship, and ecological constraints. Behavioral Ecology, 16: 961-973.

Rozhnov, V., A. Abramov. 2006. Sexual Dimorphism of Marbled Polecat Vormela peregusna (Carnivora: Mustelidae). Biology Bulletin, 33: 144-148.

Rozhnov, V., I. Meschersky, A. Abramov. 2008. Geographical Variation of the Marbled Polecat Vormela peregusna (Carnivora: Mustelidae): Molecular Genetic Study. Doklady Biological Sciences, 418: 27-29.

Tikhonov, A., P. Cavallini, T. Maran, A. Krantz, J. Herrero, G. Giannatos, M. Stubbe, J. Conroy, B. Kryštufek, A. Abramov, C. Wozencraft. 2008. "Vormela peregusna. In: IUCN 2008." (On-line). 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.. Accessed February 01, 2009 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/29680.

Wund, M. 2005. "Mustelidae" (On-line). Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 12, 2009 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Mustelidae.html..