Are skunks the same as polecats

The Iltis

Mustela putorius

Polecats are easy to distinguish from the other species of marten on the basis of their bright facial features. The saying 'stink like a polecat' is derived from the animals' habit of marking their territory with an intensely smelling anal gland secretion.

Polecat - Photo: Christoph Bosch

Protection status
The polecat falls under Appendix III of the Bern Convention of 1979. This is intended to ensure the protection of sensitive and endangered species, including migratory species and their habitats. The "protected animals" of Appendix III may only be hunted or used to an extent that does not endanger their population.
The polecat is also listed in Appendix V of the Fauna-Flora-Habitat Directive (FFH Directive). This annex contains a list of "animal and plant species of Community interest, the removal of which from nature and use can be the subject of administrative measures".

Red List FRG (2009): Warning list
Red List NRW (2011): Warning list

Hunting law
Federal Hunting Act
According to Section 2 of the Federal Hunting Act (BJagdG), the polecat is one of the huntable species. According to § 1 Bundesjagdzeiten-VO, polecats can be hunted from August 1st to February 28th.

State Hunting Act
According to Section 2 of the State Hunting Act (LJG), the polecat is still subject to hunting law. According to § 1 Landesjagdzeiten-VO, the predator's hunting season remains the same: It can be hunted from October 16 to February 28.

Polecat - Photo: Christoph Bosch

Hunting route in NRW
2000/2001: 4,051 (of which fallen game: 486)
2001/2002: 4,175 (including fallen game: 590)
2002/2003: 3,953 (of which fallen game: 530)
2003/2004: 4,084 (including fallen game: 584)
2004/2005: 3,845 (of which fallen game: 560)
2005/2006: 4,612 (of which fallen game: 636)
2006/2007: 4,141 (including fallen game: 594)
2007/2008: 4,494 (of which fallen game: 704)
2008/2009: 4,416 (of which fallen game: 615)
2009/2010: 4,179 (including fallen game: 540)
2010/2011: 4,319 (of which fallen game: 830)
2011/2012: 3,957 (of which fallen game: 685)
2012/2013: 4,064 (of which fallen game: 648)
2013/2014: 3,437 (of which fallen game: 571)
2014/2015: 3,318 (of which fallen game: 581)
2015/2016: 2,892 (of which fallen game: 759)
2016/2017: 3,219 (including fallen game: 791)
2017/2018: 3,074 (of which fallen game: 633)

Stock in NRW
The Iltis is represented nationwide in North Rhine-Westphalia. The main areas of distribution are in the Westphalian and Lower Rhine lowlands as well as in the Westphalian Bight. On the basis of the case game numbers listed in the hunting statistics, it is estimated that the population has been at a more or less stable level within the last 15 years. However, hunting statistics from the period 1938/39 with a hunting range more than four times the current figures suggest that this development is not only due to different hunting intensities, but also to a decline in the population.

NABU position on the 2018 amendment to the State Hunting Act
NABU is firmly against the reintroduction of pine marten, weasel and otters to the list of huntable species. Since there is no consumer interest in these or other species of marten and the NABU also rejects the hunt for predators under the pretext of "regulation", all martens, including stone marten, polecat, ermine and badger, should be deleted from the list of huntable species become.
NABU welcomes the continuing ban on manslaughter traps as a positive but inadequate development in the State Hunting Act. For animal and species protection reasons, all traps, including live traps, must be prohibited. Open traps such as wire mesh traps pose a considerable risk of injury to the trapped animal, for example when attempting to rescue it. They also increase the likelihood of missed catches. NABU therefore categorically rejects trapping.

Brief portrait
distribution and habitat
Polecats are common in almost all of Europe. In the east, its distribution area extends to the Ural Mountains. However, this species of marten is absent on some Mediterranean islands as well as in parts of Scandinavia. Both in Germany and in North Rhine-Westphalia, the polecat occurs across the board. It inhabits forest and open land areas, preferably wetlands, but can also be found in settlement areas. There he looks for hiding places both above and below ground, such as tree hollows and piles of leaves, burrows of foxes, badgers or rabbits. Sometimes they dig their own caves.
Although polecats from all over North Rhine-Westphalia that were shot, run over or sighted are reported again and again, its population density seems to have decreased considerably compared to before. The loss of structural diversity due to intensive agricultural use, the removal of woody structures and fringes as well as the drainage of wetlands probably play no small role here, as the quality of the habitat for the polecat as well as for its prey is severely impaired.

Polecats can be distinguished from other species of marten by their light face mask, light muzzle and whitish ear rims. Her slim body is dark in color. They have a light undercoat underneath. Depending on their gender, they measure around 50 cm from head to tail and weigh between 660 and almost 1,000 g. Their sense of smell and hearing are excellent, which is why the martens rely exclusively on these two senses when hunting. They are also very good at swimming and diving. The slogan 'stink like a polecat' is derived from the animals' habit of marking their home areas with an intensely smelling anal gland secretion. With the help of the secretion, they also partially scare off potential enemies (e.g. foxes, cats and dogs).
The pairing of the crepuscular and nocturnal polecats occurs between March and May. After six weeks, the female cat gives birth to three to eight young animals, which are initially blind and have white fur. The young leave the nest when they are two months old. During this time, the usually solitary polecats can be found in the family.

Prey of the polecat ‘include mice, frogs, birds and earthworms, but carrion and fruit are also part of the menu.

Hötzel M (2017): Polecat (Mustela putorius). In: AG Mammalogy NRW - Online Atlas of Mammals North Rhine-Westphalia, Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe, 2018
Red List of Mammals in NRW, LANUV, 2011
Hunting - Legal Framework in North Rhine-Westphalia, Ministry of the Environment NRW, 2018

Status: January 2019

Nabu position paper on hunting