The Marbled polecat is a small mammal that is found in Europe and Asia. These animals have a short muzzle and very large, noticeable ears. The limbs are short and claws are long and strong. While the tail is long, with long hair, the overall pelage is short. Black and white mark the face, with a black stripe across the eyes and white markings around the mouth. Dorsally, the fur is yellow and heavily mottled with irregular reddish or brown spots. The tail is dark brown with a yellowish band in the mid region. The ventral region and limbs are dark brown in color.
Marbled polecats are found from southeast Europe to Russia and China. Its range includes Bulgaria, Georgia, Turkey, Romania, Asia Minor, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, north-western Pakistan, Yugoslavia, Mongolia, China, Kazakhstan and north to the Altai steppes in Siberia. They live in the open desert, semi-desert, and semiarid rocky areas in upland valleys and low hill ranges, and steppe country. Marbled polecats can also be found in cultivated areas such as melon patches and vegetable fields.
Marbled polecats are most active during the morning and evening. Their eyesight is weak and they rely on a well-developed sense of smell. These animals are not very vocal and communicate with the help of shrill alarm cries, grunts, and a submissive long shriek. Marbled polecats are solitary and always move extensively through their home range. They generally only stay in a shelter once. When they encounter each other, they are usually aggressive. When alarmed, Marbled polecats will raise up on their legs while arching their back and curling their tail over the back, with the long tail hair erect. They may also raise their head, bare the teeth, and give shrill or short hisses. If threatened, these animals can expel a foul-smelling secretion from enlarged anal glands under the tail. For resting and breeding polecats use burrows of large Ground squirrels or similar rodents. They may also dig their own dens or live in underground irrigation tunnels. In the winter, Marbled polecats will line their dens with grass.
Marbled polecats are carnivores. They eat ground squirrels, Libyan jirds, Armenian hamsters, voles, Mole rats, house mice, and other rodents, small hares, birds, lizards, fish, frogs, snails, and insects (beetles and crickets). These animals may also take small domestic poultry such as chickens and pigeons, as well as stealing smoked meat and cheese, as well as fruit and grass.
Little is known about the mating system in Marbled polecats. They breed from March to early June. Their mating calls are most often heard as low rumbling sounds in a slow rhythm. The gestation period can be long and variable lasting from 243 to 327 days and kits are usually born from late January to mid-March. Delayed implantation allows Marbled polecats to time the birth of their kits for favorable conditions, such as when prey is abundant. Litter sizes range from 4 to 8 kits. Only females care for the young. Kits open their eyes at around 38-40 days old and are weaned at 50-54 days. They become independent and leave their mother at 61-68 days of age. Young Marble cats reach reproductive maturity when they are 1 year old.
The major threat to Marbled polecats is the loss of natural habitats through conversion to cultivated farmland. Other threats include poisoning by rodenticides and population declines in key prey species. In some areas, Marbled polecats also suffer from hunting for their fur.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Marbled cat total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.
Marbled polecats are important in the ecosystems where they live as predators of small rodents.