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Weasels, Lone and Short tailed

Yellowstone Weasel

Few things make a wildlife photographer happy than coming across a weasel, encounters are rare and treasured.

Short-tailed Weasels, also called Ermine, and Long-tailed Weasels, are two weasel species very common in Connecticut. They have many similarities and are often difficult to tell apart. The Connecticut DEP conducted a distribution study of these two weasels from 2007 to 2009. DNA samples were needed to confirm the species of a given specimen. Both weasels have the characteristic long thin body and short legs associated with the weasel family.

The stoat (Mustela erminea), also known as the short-tailed weasel or simply the weasel. It is a mammal of the genus Mustela of the family Mustelidae native to Eurasia and North America, distinguished from the least weasel by its larger size and longer tail with a prominent black tip. Originally from Eurasia, it crossed into North America some 500,000 years ago, where it naturalized and joined the notably larger, closely related native long-tailed weasel.

Long-tailed weasel has a long slender body and head. Their long bodies and flexible backs allow them to enter the burrows of rodents and other animals that are smaller than them. On average, males are larger than females. These weasels have long, bushy tails that make up about 50% of their total body length. Long-tailed weasels have a small, narrow head with long whiskers, and short legs. Their fur is composed of short, soft under fur covered by shiny guard hair. They are cinnamon brown in color with white under parts that have a yellow tinge. Long-tailed weasels have a black tip to their tail, even in their all white winter phase.

Twice each year weasels change their coats. In the fall they molt from a golden tan to pure white except for the black tip of their tail. In the spring they shed that beautiful white coat for the tan one. During these molting times are the best opportunities to observe them, as they do not blend into their surroundings all the time.

The name ermine is used for any species in the genus Mustela, especially the stoat, in its pure white winter coat, or the fur thereof. In the late 19th century, stoats were introduced into New Zealand to control rabbits, where they have had a devastating effect on native bird populations. When will people ever learn not to introduce non-endemic species?

Weasels prefer riparian woodlands, marshes, shrubby fencerows, and open areas adjacent to forests or shrub borders. Although ermine are primarily terrestrial, they climb trees and swim well. Tree roots, hollow logs, stonewalls, and rodent burrows are used as dens. Dens are usually around 300 mm below ground. Weasels line their nests with dry vegetation, and fur and feathers from prey.

The Ermin stage

Weasels are mainly solitary animals. Males and females do not associate, except during the mating season. One male's home range may overlap a few female home ranges, but the home ranges of adults of the same sex never overlap. Weasels exhibit very aggressivebehavior towards intruders on their home ranges. Long-tailed weasels are quick, agile, and alert animals. They are excellent climbrs and swimmers.

They have to be always on the hunt, though. Because of their long slender body and high metabolism, their bodies lose heat quickly, requiring them to eat about 75% of their body weight every day. Hunting and eating are full time jobs for them. When given the chance they will kill prey and store it. As many as 50 rodents have been found stored by weasels in hollow logs and burrows. Weasels exemplify evolutionary genius and compromise in equal measure, the piecing together of exaggerated and often contradictory traits to yield a lineage of fierce, fleet, quick-witted carnivores that can compete for food against larger celebrity predators like the big cats, wolves and bears. They also developed a bad reputation for being bloodthirsty devils because of their behavior of attacking victims much larger than themselves. They need to kill and eat about half their body weight every day. Weasels have been seen killing and carrying off animals twice, four times their size.

Weasels luxury fur was used in the 15th century by Catholic monarchs, who sometimes used it as the mozzetta cape. It was also used in capes on images such as the Infant Jesus of Prague.

For an animal that once had bounties placed on them, the weasel has adapted well and their population is doing well. They may be close to you and you will never see them unless you see a couple of black beady eyes or a black tip of a tail in fresh fallen snow.

If you do see one their cuteness will make you wonder how did they acquire such a vile reputation.

 
Wildlife Photography By Daryl L. Hunter
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