Three small wild animals that everyone probably knows by name. But although they live in this country, we hardly know any details about them. One appears to us like the other. We name differences between martens, weasels and polecats.

Scientific systematics

All three wild animals, it’s hard to believe, come from the marten family , scientifically Mustelidae. But they belong to different genera or subgenera.

The real martens form their own genus with the scientific name Martes. Another genus called Mustela includes the subgenus of the polecat and the subgenus of the weasel, as well as the mink, which is not the subject of this article. The following species are native to our latitudes:

  • True martens: stone marten (Martes foina) and pine marten (Martes martes)
  • Weasel: ermine (Mustela erminea) and little weasel (Mustela nivalis),
  • Iltis: European Iltis (Mustela putorius)
Note: The local weasels are also known by other names. Ermine as a large weasel or short-tailed weasel. Mouse weasels as dwarf or small weasels or popularly as hermans.

height and weight

There are minor overlaps in size and weight, but the trend is clear. It helps to recognize the individual animal species better.

Martens are the largest animals with a body length of 40 to 58 cm. Their tail length is 16-30 cm, and their weight is 0.8-2.3 kg. It has to be said that the Pine Marten is a bit longer and at the same time lighter.

In terms of size, the European polecats, also known as forest polecats, follow with a body length of 30 to 46 cm and a weight of 0.4 to 1.7 kg. The females are slightly smaller and lighter. The tail length is 7 to 19 cm.

Weasels are the smallest, with ermines being larger at 17–33 cm in body length and 40–360 g in weight than little weasels at 11–26 cm and 25–250 g. The length of the tail of the two weasels is mostly well below 10 cm.

Note: The above information is a general guide. Weight and size show regional differences in some species.


Although all animals are mainly brown in color, they have typical coat markings that make them easy to identify.

stone marten

  • brown fur with greyish-white undercoat
  • slightly hairy soles
  • Markings: white, often forked throat patch, can reach to the front legs


  • chestnut to dark brown
  • short and harsh in summer, long and silky in winter
  • more hairy soles
  • Drawing: yellowish throat patch, rounded down


A brown colored upper side and a white underside are typical for weasels. The little weasel also has a jagged line between the color transitions and brown feet and brown tail, while the ermine’s tail tip is black. In winter, the fur of the stoat turns white in this country, but retains a black tip of the tail. The fur of the mouse weasel can turn completely white in the cold season. But that rarely happens in Central Europe because it is comparatively warm.

European Iltis

  • colored dark brown or black
  • the undercoat shines through yellowish
  • in summer the color remains the same, but the fur becomes noticeably thinner
  • Markings: Muzzle, the area behind the eyes and the tips of the ears are whitish
Tip: You can also recognize the European polecats by the black spots around and in front of their eyes, which give them a mask-like appearance.


In the wild, there are the following differences in life expectancy:

  • Beech marten: on average 3 years, maximum 10.
  • Pine marten: mostly under 10 years, maximum 16 years
  • Stoat: 7 years are possible, in practice the lifespan is 1-2 years (many predators)
  • Little weasels: maximum 3-5 years, many animals die in the first year of life
  • European polecat: up to 6 years
European Iltis

Under human care, stone martens can live up to 18 years, little weasels up to 9 years and European polecats up to 14 years.


Only the pine marten is a typical forest dweller. He likes to roam deciduous and mixed forests, but can also be seen in large parks. The stone marten, on the other hand, prefers open forest edges as well as meadows and fields. But he is also considered a so-called culture follower, who often inhabits human settlements. That is why it is often referred to as house marten or roof marten.

In the wild, polecats have habitats similar to those of the beech marten, but they also prefer bodies of water and wetlands. Stables and barns in rural areas can also be hunting grounds.

Ermines prefer habitats close to water that are rich in structure, with hedgerows and field trees. They also frequent settlement gardens. The little weasel avoids deep forests, otherwise it can be found everywhere. In agricultural areas, its population increases significantly in summer, so that an encounter with it is not unlikely.

way of life

The living environment and way of life of the animal species differ in some respects. These can help you spot them.

stone marten

  • nocturnal
  • can climb, but mostly stays on the ground
  • pads its burrow with plant matter, hair, or feathers
  • often lives in attics or in stables


  • nocturnal
  • good at climbing and jumping far (up to 4m)
  • lives mostly in tree cavities
  • has a marked territory of variable size


  • diurnal in summer, nocturnal in winter
  • often on the move at dusk
  • has a range of up to 200 hectares
  • has several retreats, which it pads with feathers and plant material

Mouse switch

  • can travel day and night
  • Lives in crevices, hollow tree trunks, under rock piles, etc.
  • has a territory of up to 50 hectares


  • nocturnal,
  • stays on the ground, hardly climbs
  • can swim and dive
  • lives in nature, but also in buildings


We mainly deal with carnivores here. The differences are primarily reflected in the “favourite food”.

  • Beech marten: omnivore; Rodents, birds and their eggs, frogs, insects, even chickens
  • pine marten: omnivore; prefers small mammals and birds, in autumn also nuts and berries
  • European polecat: predominantly carnivores, preferring frogs and toads
  • Ermine: mainly small mammals, alternatively birds, fish and insects
  • Mole Weasels: Small mammals, especially rodents


When it comes to reproduction, there are both similarities and differences. After mating, martens and ermines enter what is known as dormancy. Only then does the approximately four-week gestation period follow. The young of all species are still blind and naked for about four weeks after birth.

  • Beech Marten: Mating June to August, the litter takes place March to April, 3-4 young
  • Forest Marten: mating in summer, the litter occurs around April, usually 3 young
  • Stoat: Mating late spring to summer, litter April or May, 3-18 young
  • Little Weasels: Mating can take place all year round, even twice a year, 3-10 very small young
  • European Polecat: Mating March to June, gestation period around 42 days, 2-12 young

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *