(Old World polecats), a subgenus of predatory mammals of the genus Mustela of the family Mustelidae. The body length is 38–51 cm, and the tail length 11–19 cm. The animals weigh 0.7–1.4 kg. The body is elongate and pliant, and the legs are short. The snout is blunt, and the ears are small. The fur is bushy and soft.
There are three species, distributed in North America, Europe, North Africa, and Asia. The USSR has two species, inhabiting the European portion (northward to the southern boundary of the taiga), Middle Asia, Kazakhstan, and southern Siberia. The animals are predominantly nocturnal. They inhabit forests (Mustela putorius putorius), forest steppes, steppes, and semideserts (Mustela putorius eversmanni and Mustela putorius nigripes). The cats settle in felled and burned forests, in shrubbery, and on open land, using the burrows of other animals or natural shelters. Polecats often settle in human dwellings. The diet consists exclusively of small animals. Reproduction occurs once a year, with four to eight young (sometimes as many as 19) in a litter. Some species are valued for their fur. Polecats sometimes prey upon poultry. An albino form has been domesticated and is used to control injurious rodents.
I. I. SOKOLOV