Steppe polecat – Description, Behaviour, Diet, Reproduction and Growth

Wild steppe polecat at the Stepnoi Sanctuary, Astrakhan oblast, Russia

The steppe polecat, also known as the masked or white polecat, is a species of mustelid native to Easter and Central Europe, and Central Asia. It is luckily listed as Least Concern by the IUCN because of its broad distribution, occurrence in several protected areas, and tolerance to a degree of territory modification. It is usually of a very light yellowish color, with a dark mask across the face and dark limbs. Compared to its sibling, the European polecat, the steppe polecat is more prominent in size and has a more vigorously built skull.


The species is close to the European polecat in general appearance, habits, and dimensions, though its body seems more elongated due to its shorter guard hairs. The tail is somewhat short, constituting a staggering third of its body length. The skull is more massive and heavier than that of the European polecat, having more broadly spaced zygomatic arches and more actively developed projections, especially the sagittal crest.

Male steppe polecat measures 350–550 mm in body length, while females measure 300–500 mm. The tail length of males is 70–170 mm and 250–500 mm for females. Females in Siberia may weigh up to 1,350 grams, while males weigh 2,050 grams.

The winter fur is tall and soft, with dense, short-long, and underfur, sparse guard hairs. The skin is generally shorter and not as thick as that of the European polecat. The guard hairs are incredibly well developed on the lower back, though still more scattered than those of the European polecat.


The steppe polecat does not really have sharply established home ranges. During sunny seasons, particularly in areas abundant in ground squirrels, aged polecats hold nearly stable territories until they have eradicated their prey. Younger polecats are less passive and will sleep overnight in the burrows of ground squirrels they have eliminated. Females nursing their offspring are the most settled but will start roaming once the kits are old enough to join them.

The steppe polecat does not dig its own burrow. They use those of ground squirrels, marmots, moles, voles, hamsters, jerboas, and others, after somewhat widening them.

Reproduction and Growth

In captivity, mating was recently observed from early March till April. The mating season in Transbaikalia occurs at the end of May, while western Siberia occurs in March. Copulation lasts from 30 minutes to two hours.


Unlike European polecat, which feeds mainly on mouse-like rodents, the steppe polecat preys on steppe-dwelling, larger mammals such as hamsters, pikas, and ground squirrels, and injured or young adult marmots. Ground squirrels are its most common prey throughout the year; in summer periods, they are extensively hunted on the surface, while in autumn, they are vividly unearthed from their burrows.

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