This mustelid is like a good rye!
The Marbled Polecat (Vormela peregusna) can be found in the grasslands of central Asia and southeastern Europe. Its range is widely distributed, and includes Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Siberia, Mongolia, China, Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Romania, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Armenia, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Syria, Georgia and Russia. There has even been a documented observation of a Marbled Polecat on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.
Marbled Polecats have a very striking appearance. Their common name refers to the mottled coloring on most of their bodies, which can be a mixture of red, brown and yellow. During the breeding season, the yellow patches of male Marbled Polecats turn orange. Their limbs and belly are dark brown or black, and they have light and dark mask markings on their faces. Their tails are long and fluffy. They can grow up to 15 inches (38 cm) in body length, with tails up to 8 inches (21 cm) long. They weigh about 1.5 pounds (715 grams).
The diet of Marbled Polecats consists of a variety of small rodents, but small is a relative term. Marbled Polecats are capable of taking down prey that is as big or bigger than they are, including ground squirrels, voles, small hares, mole rats and hamsters. This is supplemented by other small prey like reptiles, birds and their eggs, fish, insects, amphibians and snails. They will sometimes also eat grasses and fruit.
There are currently six recognized subspecies of Marbled Polecat:
- Vormela peregusna peregusna
- Vormela peregusna euxina
- Vormela peregusna negans
- Vormela peregusna pallidor
- Vormela peregusna syriaca
- Vormela peregusna alpherakyi
The breeding season of Marbled Polecats begins in May, and impregnated females are able to delay implantation of fertilized embryos until the following year, when birthing conditions are more favorable. Young are usually born between January and March, and litter sizes range from four to eight cubs. Females care for their young on their own, without any involvement from the male. They are weaned by the time they are about 50 days old, and start to head off on their own only a couple of weeks later.
While Marbled Polecats have been hunted for their fur, the primary threat to their survival is the loss of the grassland and steppe habitat throughout their range, through agricultural development and desertification. They are considered to be a vulnerable species by the IUCN. Marbled Polecats have occasionally been kept as pets in order to control pests, but they have been known to target domestic poultry, which brings them into conflict with humans.
Source for all images used in this post.