What Are Mustelids?

Global range of mustelids

For starters, not all are weasels

Most of us know what otters and badgers are, but as for martens, polecats, the tayra, American mink, wolverine, etc… Why are there so many different names for a “weasel”? That’s because many of these animals form their own genus and distinct species, most of which—despite being members of the loosely termed  “weasel family”—aren’t truly weasels at all. Technically, weasels are their own subfamily of the genus Mustela, so it can be misleading and undermine the family’s evolutionary differences when this term is casually applied to every mustelid.

A brief history

Mustelidae is the largest family within the order Carnivora and also one of the most successful, with distribution on all continents except the poles and Australia. They’re also among the most primitive, having been around for some 15 million years and undergone few anatomical changes from the first carnivorans that appeared about 40 million years ago. This does not by any means indicate they underdeveloped—on the contrary, through adapting to niches in a vast variety of environments the mustelids have taken on an equally wide range of forms, while still having kept parts of the original design. Studying mustelids and how they function offers a rare glimpse into ancient times and evolution in effect.

Clever, feisty and incredibly diverse


More than just predators

We often hear mustelids being described as super predators, but where is the attention to them also being super mothers? These animals will go above and beyond to provide for their young; boldly and tirelessly risking their lives for the many mouths that depend on them for nourishment. Not only that, but they also must pass down their experience to their young, so they too will have the skills needed to survive.

Another fact that is often overlooked is that many of the smaller mustelids are prey to a number of larger predators such as wolves, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and bird of prey.

American Mink | Badgers | Ferret-Badgers | Fisher | Grisons | Martens | Otters | PolecatsTayra | Weasels | Wolverine