Steppe on over if you want to learn about a new mustelid!
The Steppe Polecat (Mustela eversmannii) is one of the larger polecats and can be found throughout eastern Europe and central Asia. Its closest living relatives are the European Polecat and the Black-footed Ferret, likely diverging from their common ancestor about 1.5 million years ago. They tend to prefer higher elevation, non-forested habitats like fields, semi-deserts, and steppes. They don’t have established territories, and instead are nomads, moving from one area to another once their prey has been depleted.
Adult Steppe Polecats can grow up to 22 inches (56 cm) in body length, with tails up to 7 inches (18 cm). Adult males can weigh approximately 4.5 pounds (2.5 kg), and females are generally smaller. Their coloring is typically a pale or yellow-ish undercoat with darker fur on the limbs, tail and guard hairs. Winter coats don’t vary in color as much as they do in length and softness, when the undercoat grows thick and smooth.
Because of its larger size, the Steppe Polecat is able to take even larger prey than its relatives. Instead of limiting itself to small rodents and other mammals, the Steppe Polecat will hunt pika, ground squirrels and even marmots. Other prey depends on the specific habitat, but will include water voles, fish, birds, eggs and occasionally carrion.
The mating season of the Steppe Polecat occurs in the spring, and after a gestation period of 43 days, females will give birth to a litter of three to eight kits. If a female is not able to produce a litter for some reason, or her offspring dies prematurely, it is possible for her to go back into estrus during the same year and mate again. Because of their nomadic nature, Steppe Polecats usually shelter in found burrows like hollow logs and burrows dug by other animals (usually by their prey).
The Steppe Polecat is considered to be a species of least concern by the IUCN, due to its healthy overall population and wide distribution across two continents. They are trapped for meat and fur by humans, and different subspecies are more vulnerable due to environmental conditions and human pressure. There are currently seven recognized subspecies:
- Mustela eversmannii eversmannii
- Mustela eversmannii admirata
- Mustela eversmannii amurensis
- Mustela eversmannii hungarica
- Mustela eversmannii larvatus
- Mustela eversmannii michnoi
- Mustela eversmannii talassicus