The Gobi Desert, as ‘Trouvailles Talks’ has mentioned before, conjures up images of an arid, barren and inhospitable wasteland. However, nature lovers know nothing could be further from the truth. The Gobi is teeming with life, with many species having developed unique and fascinating adaptations due to the harsh environs.
You may expect to see spiders, scorpions, reptiles or a Bactrian camel on a trek through the Gobi; but a polecat, not so much. The Vormela peregusna or Marbled Polecat as they’re more commonly known are as cute as they are strange. These little scamps appear not to have been able to make their minds up as to who or what they are. Opting instead for a look that says, “I’m a ferret in fancy dress, check out my Kuala bear-racoon-leopard combo!”
You’re most likely to come across this delightful little critter in the morning, as that’s when they are most active. Oddly, for a desert animal their eyesight is quite weak, leaving them dependant on a powerful sense of smell to hunt. As with all polecats, the Vormela peregusna can be characterised by its elongated body, short muzzle, powerful long claws and compact limbs. What really sets it apart from its relatives is its kooky markings and coat!
Their faces, which are heavenly, look as though their wearing a black highwayman’s mask surrounded by a large white band that spans their foreheads and continues down around the cheeks. They’ve white outsized furry ears, which are always pricked, adding to their perpetually surprised expression. They’ve bright inquisitive brown eyes and long bushy black and yellow tails, but it’s their marbled dorsal sides made up of orange, yellow, red, deep browns and blacks that leave you wondering what the devil they are.
Though they look precious, all those that have come across them know to approach with caution, lest they be caught up in the extremely foul smell a marbled polecat emits when threatened. If they sense danger they display their teeth, squeal, hiss and grunt. If that’s not enough to ward you off they lift their legs, arch their backs and curl their tails releasing a scent that can only be described as noxious from their inflated anal glands.
An opportunistic predator, the marbled polecat will make a meal of almost anything. Diet includes a range of rodents, such as gerbils, mice and desert squirrels. Small birds and lizards are also on the menu and though carnivorous they will eat insects in a pinch.
When it comes to mating behaviour there is not much known about the marbled polecat. What we do know is they’re not pack animals and prefer to be alone, coming together only to breed in spring. A female will bear anything from 4 to 8 cubs and those cubs are able to eat solid food even before opening their eyes, which they do at around 40 days old.
Though their pelts hold little economic value the marbled polecat is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List. While marbled polecats have been hunted for their fur, the primary threat to their survival is loss of the grassland and steppe habitat throughout their range. The marbled polecat population shrank over 30% between 1998 and 2008 and today their numbers are still in decline.
Did You Know
In captivity a marbled polecats gestation period is around 40 days, but this is often much longer in the wild, with gestation lasting between 8 to 11 months.
It is often said that marbled polecats have no natural predator in the Gobi, but this isn’t true. They may be hunted by eagles’ owls and snakes.
When digging or excavating dens, marbled polecats use their forelegs to dig the earth and anchor themselves using their hind legs and chin.
A marbled polecat cub is called a 'Kit', a female is called a 'Jill', a male is known as a 'Hob'. A group of marbled polecats which is very rarely seen is known as a 'Chine'.
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