Geographical Range Western Europe to the Ural Mountains (native range in the wild); introduced to New Zealand; domesticated form found worldwide
Habitat Forests, meadows (in the wild); domesticated form found in various habitats, associated with human settlements
Scientific Name Mustela putorius
Conservation Status Common

This European polecat is the wild ancestor of the domestic ferret. It is a member of the weasel family, so it is very quick and nimble. The polecat’s long, slender body is ideal for entering tight animal burrows in search of small mammals, reptiles, birds and other prey.

It was this ability that led people to begin domesticating polecats – they wanted the animals to rid their communities of rats, rabbits and other pest species. It’s thought that the domestication of the ferret began in Europe more than 2,500 years ago.

Polecats tend to be nocturnal (active at night), as do domestic ferrets. In fact, a healthy ferret often sleeps 18 to 20 hours a day!