Journal of Ethology

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 89–94 | Cite as

Development of survival skills in captive-raised Siberian polecats (Mustela eversmanni) I: Locating prey

  • Brian Miller
  • Dean Biggins
  • Chris Wemmer
  • Roger Powell
  • Lou Hanebury
  • Deborah Horn
  • Astrid Vargas


Captive-raised mustelids appear to have a rudimentary capacity to kill prey, but the skills necessary for locating prey may be eroded during captivity. We tested the maturational component of prey-searching behavior with captive-raised Siberian polecats (Mustela eversmanni) by subjecting polecats to a simulated prairie dog colony of 6 burrows within a 200 m2 arena. Ten naive Siberian polecats at ages 2.5, 3.5, and 4.5 months (30 total) were deprived of food for 12 hours. A dead prairie dog was placed in 1 prairie dog burrow and the other 5 were empty. A single Siberian polecat was released onto the colony shortly before sunset and its movements monitored from an observation tower. Older Siberian polecats located prey significantly quicker than younger polecats, but all age groups spent a great deal of time in surface activity not directed toward a burrow. When Siberian polecats were about 10 months old, all burrows in the arena were plugged with dirt including the burrow with the prairie dog. In this winter test, Siberian polecats located the prey but still spent a great deal of time in non-burrow directed surface activity. Economical use of surface time, with a low amount of non-burrow directed behavior, would presumably reduce the risk of predation for hunting polecats.


Arena Surface Activity Animal Ecology Maturational Component Directed Surface 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Japan Ethological Society 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian Miller
    • 1
  • Dean Biggins
    • 2
  • Chris Wemmer
    • 1
  • Roger Powell
    • 3
  • Lou Hanebury
    • 2
  • Deborah Horn
    • 1
  • Astrid Vargas
    • 4
  1. 1.Conservation and Research Center of the National Zoological ParkSmithsonian InstitutionFront Royal
  2. 2.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Ecology Research CenterFort Collins
  3. 3.Department of ZoologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleigh
  4. 4.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Cooperative Research Unit, Department of Zoology and PhysiologyUniversity of WyomingLaramie

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