Weasels

The classification of weasels can be very confusing, as evolution has lead to a variety of species sharing the same anatomy. The family Mustelidae is often referred to as the “weasel family”. However, this simplified terminology can be misleading in the English language, given many distinctive mustelids (such as badgers, otters, the tayra and the wolverine) are related to weasels, or in some respects “weasel-like”, but are not actually weasels. Some sources believe only members of the genus Mustela are “true” weasels.(1) Weasel is also a common nickname given to any animal that’s just slinky in appearance. All and all, it’s little wonder so many are confused as to just what a weasel is.

Weasels are the tiniest members of the family, their long, slender bodies adapted to pursuing prey into their burrows; losing little speed when their normal gait transitions to a crouching position. Despite being the smallest mustelids, some attack and kill prey up to ten times their size; a risky but rewarding ability when the need for protein is so great. Weasels vary in length from 173 to 217 mm (6.8 to 8.5 in), females being smaller than the males, and usually have red or brown upper coats and white bellies. Their tails may be from 34 to 52 mm (1.3 to 2.0 in) long.

Depending on the subspecies, only three mustelids are known for changing to their white winter coats, and you will find all of them within this species list—the least weasel (M. nivalis), long-tailed weasel (M. frenata), and stoat (M. erminea).(2)

How “weasel” can be a misleading common name

The word “weasel” is often used in a manner that suggests there is only one species. Usually in England and New Zealand, “weasel” is a generic common name used to refer to the least weasel, while in North America “weasel” often refers to any of the three small native Mustela species.(3) Although these terms aren’t incorrect, their use has lead many people to assume there is only one type of weasel in existence, or that these species are somehow more ‘weasel-like’ compared to others. Truth is there are numerous different species and subspecies of weasels—many of which have their own unique features, size and range, including abilities and vulnerabilities relative to their respective climates.

A family misunderstood

Classic myths and general scaremongering have made the weasel family the most misunderstood of all mustelids. The common expression “weasel out of” and misnomer term “weasel words” also haven’t helped their image. In addition, people frequently attribute human emotions to weasels, claiming they are simply “mass murderers” or “bloodthirsty” animals that kill for pleasure. Like all predators, weasels hunt to survive; this behaviour is not unusual or unique in the animal kingdom for them to be superficially defined by it. Small predators in particular live on the edge with threats around every corner, including their high metabolic rate. It’s a constant race around the clock to stay warm and alive(4), so they have to be more intense than most to make it through the day, and unless we know the reasons for why they evolved to behave as they do, it’s easy to misinterpret their intentions. We’re not saying they don’t enjoy chasing their prey or enjoy the taste of their food, but it is not pure malice for fun.

Surplus killing

Some would say another reason weasels are thought to kill for pleasure is due to the act of surplus killing—especially in regard to chickens. Though the exact reason is inconclusive, it is possible that multiple prey is killed so the weasel may return (or store) to consume its food at another time. It is this similar evolutionary programming that has enabled other species to survive.(5) A tunnel hunter has to stay as slim as possible, which is not without costs—the high metabolic rate and limited storage of body fat will cause them to perish if they do not eat within a few hours throughout the day.(6) Weasels sometimes kill more than they can eat, but it is also possible the weasel is unable to return to eat the remainder of its kill due to the owner of the chicken coop scaring it off, or removing the killed chickens in its absence.

Egg-sucking myth

Despite the claim in one of William Shakespeare’s plays,(7) weasels do not suck eggs.(3) In relation, the misnomer term “weasel word” likely first appeared in Stewart Chaplin’s 1900 short story “Stained Glass Political Platform”, in which weasel words were described as “words that suck the life out of the words next to them, just as a weasel sucks the egg and leaves the shell”.(8) The truth is weasels (more specifically stoats) have evolved a peculiar way to consume eggs. They make a small hole at the top, turn it so it lays in a horizontal position, and lick the liquid content when it starts flowing.(9) So essentially they drain eggs, not suck them. Seeing empty eggshells left behind gave rise to the myth that weasels suck eggs, which is something they are not physically capable of doing.

Blood-sucking exaggeration

There have been claims that weasels will literally suck the blood of their prey, which is an exaggeration most likely deriving from a poorly written description. To be clear, weasels cannot physically ‘suck’ anything; they can only ‘suckle’, and they stop doing this once weaned. Weasels (including other mustelids) may lap up a small amount blood if it trickles from a wound, or to get moisture and extra nutrients with their food in a practical sense, but there is no significant proof that they actually indulge in it.

References

  1. B. Gilbert, The Weasel (1970); C. King, Weasels and Stoats (1989).
  2. Rich Landers “A peek at animals that turn white in winter” The Spokesman-Review (Jan. 10, 2012).
  3. King, Carolyn M., and Roger A. Powell. The natural history of weasels and stoats: ecology, behavior, and management. Oxford University Press, 2006.
  4. Brown, James H., and Robert C. Lasiewski. “Metabolism of weasels: the cost of being long and thin.” Ecology 53.5 (1972): 939-943.
  5. Kruuk, Hans. “Surplus killing by carnivores.” Journal of Zoology 166.2 (1972): 233-244.
  6. King, Carolyn M. “The advantages and disadvantages of small size to weasels, Mustela species.” Carnivore behavior, ecology, and evolution. Springer, Boston, MA, 1989. 302-334.
  7. Freinkel, Lisa Myōbun. “Doing Time: Shakespeare’s Weasel, Chao-Chou’s Dog, and the Melancholy Lyric.” The Yearbook of Comparative Literature 57.1 (2011): 213-229.
  8. Chaplin, Stewart. “Stained glass political Platform.” The Century Magazine (1900): 304-308.
  9. Steve Harris from BBC Wildlife magazine “How to identify bird egg thieves”.

(1) Altai Weasel (Mustela altaica)

Photo by Karunakar Rayker

The altai weasel, also known as the mountain weasel, pale weasel or solongoi, primarily lives in high-altitude regions of Asia. DNA analyses reveal it’s the closest relative of the stoat, but it’s unknown if they can interbreed.

Appearance

A weasel that gives off a delicate impression- it’s sandy-brown on top and light yellow below, with white paws. The face appears very defined with a dark nose and prominent zygomatic arches (cheek bones), framed with contrasting white whisker pads and chin.

Winter coat: Changes to a notably darker shade of its summer coat rather than turning lighter.

Diet

The mountain weasel is one of the primary predators of pikas, but it will also hunt small rodents in standard weasel-fashion like voles. Other prey include muskrats, ground squirrels, rabbits, small birds, reptiles, amphibians, and the occasional insect. Is one of few mustelids that’s regarded as beneficial to farmers, for their natural control of crop damaging pests.

Range map

Size: 22–29 cm / 9–11.5 in (males), 22–25 cm / 9–10 in (females)
Tail length: 11–15 cm / 4–6 in (males), 9–12 cm /  3.5–5 in (females)
Weight: 217–350 g / 8–12 oz (males), 122–220 g / 4–8 oz (females)
Lifespan: Not reported. Assumed to be between 7 and 10 years.
Range: Mountains of Asia, Russian central Asia, and Korea to northern India.
Conservation status: Near threatened
Recognised subspecies(1)

  1. M. a. altaica
  2. M. a. birulai
  3. M. a. raddei
  4. M. a. temon

References

  1. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Mustela altaica in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

(2) Amazon Weasel (Mustela africana)

Illustration by Hanna W.

The Amazon weasel, also known as the tropical weasel, is a species only found in South America. Although the full extent of their range is unknown, the Amazon weasel is found in humid areas, mainly in forests near the banks of rivers in the Amazon basin.(1) Early scientific records inaccurately described the Amazon weasel’s native range as Africa, which led to its misleading scientific name.(2) This only adds to the complex taxonomy of the mustelid family.

Appearance

Most sites that show a photograph of an Amazon weasel do not have the correct photo. In fact, we were unable to find a single website out there that had a photo of an actual Amazon weasel. For this reason we have created an illustration instead. Their fur varies from reddish to dark brown on the dorsal surface, and is pale orange-tan on the underparts. A stripe of the same colour as that on the dorsal surface runs down the centre of the chest and throat.(1) The whiskers are shorter than in any other species of weasel and the soles underneath its paws are almost bare, suggesting specific adaptations that have yet to be confirmed.

Diet

Little is known about the diet of the Amazon weasel, but it likely consumes rodents and other small mammals. They have been reported to construct burrows in the stumps of hollow trees.(1)

Range map

Size: 43–52 cm / 17–20 in (males)
Tail length: 16–21 cm / 6.3–8.3 in
Weight: 700 g / 1.5 lb (males)
Lifespan: Not reported.
Range: Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and northern Bolivia.
Conservation status: Least concern
Recognised subspecies(3)

  1. M. a. africana
  2. M. a. stolzmanni
References

  1. Emmons, Louise, and François Feer. Neotropical rainforest mammals: a field guide. No. Sirsi) i9780226207193. 1997.
  2. Ramírez-Chaves, Héctor E., Heidi Liliana Arango-Guerra, and Bruce D. Patterson. “Mustela africana (Carnivora: Mustelidae).” Mammalian Species 46.917 (2014): 110-115.
  3. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Mustela africana in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

(3) Back-Striped Weasel (Mustela strigidorsa)

Photo credit unknown

The back-striped weasel, also called the stripe-backed weasel, is a species that inhabits southeastern Asia. It is thought to live primarily in the evergreen forests in the hills and mountains, but has also been recorded in dense scrubs, secondary forests, grasslands, and farmland.(1) Like many weasels, the back-striped weasel is presumed to be diurnal and mostly solitary.

Appearance

The back-striped weasel has a very distinguishing narrow, silvery dorsal streak extending from the top of its head down to the root of its tail. The dorsal surface is dark to reddish brown in colour, while a yellowish streak runs from the chest along the abdomen. The dorsal surface can vary in shades of brown, sometimes lighter on the head, or darker parallel to the dorsal streak. Its chin and throat is pale to whitish in colour, and opens up and narrows as it moves down to its hind legs.(2)

Diet

With limited research on the back-striped weasel, little is known about their diet, but it likely consumes rodents and other small mammals like most other weasels.

Conservation

The back-striped weasel is protected in Thailand and listed as Endangered on the China Red List.(3)(4)

Range map

Size: 30–36 cm / 12–14 in (males)
Tail length: 18–20 cm / 7.1–7.9 in
Weight: 700 g / 1.5 lb (males)
Lifespan: Not reported.
Range: Southeastern Asia
Conservation status: Least concern
References

  1. Abramov, A. V., et al. “The stripe‐backed weasel Mustela strigidorsa: taxonomy, ecology, distribution and status.” Mammal Review 38.4 (2008): 247-266.
  2. Pocock, R. I. (1941). “Mustela strigidorsa Gray. The Back-striped Weasel”The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Mammalia Vol. II. Carnivora (suborders Aeluroidae (part) and Arctoidae). London: Taylor and Francis, Ltd. pp. 376–380.
  3. Roberton, S., et al. “Mustela strigidorsa. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e. T14027A45201218.” (2016).
  4. Wang, S. and Xie, Y. 2004. China Species Red List. Vol. 1 Red List. Higher Education Press, Beijing, China.

(4) Colombian Weasel (Mustela felipei)

Photo by Juan Manuel de Roux

The Colombian weasel, also known as the Don Felipe’s weasel, is a very rare weasel native to northern Ecuador and far eastern Colombia. Both its scientific and alternative common name honours the mammalogist Philip “Don Felipe” Hershkovitz.(1)

Appearance

The dorsal surface and tail are blackish-brown, while the underparts are orange-buff. There is also a distinguish ventral spot on its neck that’s the same color as the dorsum. Colombian weasels are observed to have webbed paws, which suggests they are perhaps semi-aquatic.(1)(2)(3)

Diet and behaviour

Little is known about the diet of the Colombian weasel, but due to their webbed paws and occurrence in riparian habitats, they are assumed to eat fish and other aquatic organisms, in addition to terrestrial small mammals, birds and insects.(4)(5) Like other weasels, they are likely to be mainly solitary and sedentary.(6)(7)

Range map

Size: 22 cm / 8.7 in (males)
Tail length: 11.5 cm / 4.5 in (males)
Weight: 120–150 g / 4.23–5.29 oz (males)
Lifespan: 1 to 6 years
Range: Western Colombia to northern Ecuador.
Conservation status: Vulnerable
References

  1. Izor, Robert J., and Luis de la Torre. “A new species of weasel (Mustela) from the highlands of Colombia, with comments on the evolution and distribution of South American weasels.” Journal of Mammalogy 59.1 (1978): 92-102.
  2. Bernal, E. 2004. Plan de Desarrollo Chivatá-Boyacá. Alcaldía Municipal de Chivatá. Chivata, 13: 126-128.
  3. McKelvey, K., K. Aubry, M. Schwartz. 2007. Using anecdotal occurrence data for rare or elusive species: the illusion of reality and a call for evidentiary standards.. species of Mustela, 12: 121-126.
  4. Alberico, M. “New locality record for the Colombian weasel (Mustela felipei).” Small Carnivore Conservation 10 (1994): 16-17.
  5. Eisenberg, J., K. Redford. 1999. Mammals of the Neotropics: The Central Neotropics: Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  6. Bernal, E. 2004. Plan de Desarrollo Chivatá-Boyacá. Alcaldía Municipal de Chivatá. Chivata, 13: 126-128.
  7. Nowak, R. 2005. Walker’s Carnivores of the world. Pp. 300-355 in Mustela. Baltimore, USA and London, UK.: Johns Hopkins University Press.

(5) Egyptian Weasel (Mustela subpalmata)

The Egyptian weasel is a species of weasel that lives in northern Egypt.

Appearance

It’s easy to understand why the Egyptian weasel was considered a subspecies of the least weasel, given its appearance. Like the least weasel it has infantile facial features and a reddish to sandy brown dorsal colour contrasting with cream to white below. It is however more bulky, with longer limbs and the tail is also elongated with a slightly darker tip.

Conservation status: Least concern

– Source from Wikipedia. The information above needs to be edited with our own words.

(6) Indonesian Mountain Weasel (Mustela lutreolina)

The Indonesian mountain weasel is a species that lives on the islands of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia at elevations over 1,000 metres (3,280 ft). They live in mountainous, tropical, and rain forest areas. Indonesian mountain weasels have a body length of 11–12 inches and a tail length of 5–6 inches.

– Source from Wikipedia. The information above needs to be edited with our own words.

Appearance

Being relatively large and bulky with an overall brown exterior and a thick tail, this weasel can easily be mistaken for an American mink or European mink, and the few photos that exist only makes it harder to identify the species among the others. It is however lighter in build than either of those species, and has larger eyes and ears in proportion to its skull.
Furthermore, it’s darker brown in colour, with contrasting light yellow upper lip patches and chin that extends down the throat and forms a large patch that is mostly angular, but can vary a bit in shape and size between individuals. The fur is silky with a high sheen, giving it a soft look.

Benefits to humans

Conservation status: Least concern

(7) Japanese Weasel (Mustela itatsi)

Photo by Dibyendu Ash

The Japanese weasel is native to Japan where it occurs on the islands of Honshū, Kyūshū and Shikoku. It has been introduced to Hokkaidō and the Ryukyu Islands to control rodents and has also been introduced to Sakhalin island in Russia.

Appearance

It can be confused with the Siberian weasel due to its similar colour, markings, anatomy and size. It’s however a darker shade of reddish brown, has a more pronounced lighter underside with a white throat patch and a shorter tail.

Winter coat: Longer, denser and lighter, yellow-buff in colour.

Size: 35 cm / 14 in (males)
Tail length: 17 cm / 6.7 in (males)
Weight: 400 g / 14 oz (males)
Lifespan: 2 to 3 years
Range: The islands of Honshū, Kyūshū and Shikoku in Japan. Introduced to Hokkaidō and the Ryukyu Islands, including Sakhalin island in Russia.
Conservation status: Near threatened

– Source from Wikipedia. The information above needs to be edited with our own words.

(8) Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis)

Photo a least weasel in its summer coat by Cecil Sanders
Photo of a least weasel in its transition phase by Anatolii Vlasov

The least weasel, also known as the common weasel, or simply the weasel in the UK and much of the world, is the smallest member of the genus Mustela, and the smallest member of the order Carnivora.

Appearance

Winter coat: Same as the stoat and the long-tailed weasel. Slightly longer, very dense and white. Only certain subspecies native to colder climates undergo the moult cycle.

Behaviour

.

Diet

Size: 13–26 cm / 5–10 in (males), 11.4–20.4 cm / 4.5–8.0 in (females)
Tail length: 1.2–8.7 cm / 0.5–3.4 in (males), 1.7–6 cm / 0.7–2.4 in (females)
Weight: 36–250 g / 1.3–8.8 oz (males), 29–117 g / 1.0–4.1 oz (females)
Lifespan: 1–2 years on average, 4–10 years at most.
Range: Widespread throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
Conservation status: Least concern
Recognised subspecies(1)

  1. M. n. allegheniensis
  2. M. n. boccamela
  3. M. n. campestris
  4. M. n. caucasica
  5. M. n. eskimo
  6. M. n. heptneri
  7. M. n. mosanensis
  8. M. n. namiyei
  9. M. n. nivalis
  10. M. n. numidica
  11. M. n. pallida
  12. M. n. pygmaea
  13. M. n. rixosa
  14. M. n. rossica
  15. M. n. russelliana
  16. M. n. stoliczkana
  17. M. n. tonkinensis
  18. M. n. vulgaris
References

  1. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Mustela nivalis in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

(9) Long-Tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata)

Photo of a long-tailed weasel in its summer coat by Keith and Kasia
Photo of a long-tailed weasel in its winter coat by Jana M. Cisar

The long-tailed weasel, also known as the bridled weasel or big stoat, is a species of mustelid distributed from southern Canada throughout all the United States and Mexico, southward through all of Central America and into northern South America.

Appearance

Several species bear some resemblance to another, and the long-tailed weasel has a ‘’look-alike cousin’’ in the stoat. Both have a black tail brush that serves the same function, both turn ermine in the North, and both overlap in size. By closer inspection, the characteristics are different in several aspects: Like the name suggests, the tail is notably longer, the ears are taller and the skull is less streamlined with a wider muzzle. When not in ermine, the long-tail’s colours and contrasting facial markings sported by some of the subspecies in dark brown and white can easily help as an identification factor. Overall it’s a warm sandy-brown on top, yellow to orange-buff below and sports white paws, but due to its wide distribution, the markings and colour depth have an impressive variation. Some don’t have facial markings at all, and the so-called bridled weasel (subspecies: M. f. xanthogenys)  from California is perhaps the most recognizable of them all, having been nicknamed for its bridle-like mask. The intensity of the pigmentation is caused by the level of humidity in an area, a phenomenon called Cloger’s rule.(1)

Winter coat: Same as the least weasel and the stoat. Slightly longer, very dense and white. Only certain subspecies native to colder climates undergo the moult cycle. The tip of the tail always remains black.

Behaviour

The majority of the weasels are strictly solitary and polygamous, with the female having the responsibility for raising the young, while the males travel long distances to mate with as many females as possible. The long-tailed weasel isn’t an exception to the rule, but the male has been known to show a little more hospitality than just leaving the family to themselves after he’s done his work. Like the stoat, the male long-tail will occasionally bring ‘’gifts’’ in the form of caught prey to den, most likely in attempt to calm the defensive aggression of the nesting female and thus gain access to mate with her. The difference is that the male long-tail does this more frequently, and because the females have to do some growing before they’re sexually mature, investing in providing for them may help their survival and increase the numbers of potential mates.(2)

Range map

Size: 33–42 cm / 13–16.5 in (males), 28–35.5 cm / 11–14 in (females)
Tail length: 13.2–29.4 cm / 5–11.5 (males), 11.2–24.5 cm / 4.5–9.5 (females)
Weight: 226–401 g / 8–14.6 oz (males), 130–178 g / 4.5–6 oz (females)
Lifespan: Not well known.
Range: Southern Canada, all of the United States and Mexico, Central America and northern South America.
Conservation status: Least concern
Recognised subspecies(3)

  1. M. f. affinis
  2. M. f. agilis
  3. M. f. alleni
  4. M. f. altifrontalis
  5. M. f. arizonensis
  6. M. f. arthuri
  7. M. f. aureoventris
  8. M. f. boliviensis
  9. M. f. costaricensis
  10. M. f. effera
  11. M. f. frenata
  12. M. f. goldmani
  13. M. f. gracilis
  14. M. f. helleri
  15. M. f. inyoensis
  16. M. f. latirostra
  17. M. f. leucoparia
  18. M. f. longicauda
  19. M. f. macrophonius
  20. M. f. munda
  21. M. f. neomexicanus
  22. M. f. nevadensis
  23. M. f. nicaraquae
  24. M. f. nigriauris
  25. M. f. notius
  26. M. f. noveboracensis
  27. M. f. occisor
  28. M. f. olivacea
  29. M. f. oregonensis
  30. M. f. oribasus
  31. M. f. panamensis
  32. M. f. peninsulae
  33. M. f. perda
  34. M. f. perotae
  35. M. f. primulina
  36. M. f. pulchra
  37. M. f. saturata
  38. M. f. spadix
  39. M. f. texensis
  40. M. f. tropicalis
  41. M. f. washingtoni
  42. M. f. xanthogenys
References

  1. Cloger’s rule is named after the zoologist Constantin Wilhelm Lambert Gloger. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloger%27s_rule
  2. Jr., Hamilton & Gamble, King, Carolyn & Powell, Roger, The Natural History of Weasels and Stoats: Ecology, Behaviour and Management,  2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 2007, Oxford, p.357.
  3. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Mustela frenata in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

(10) Malayan Weasel (Mustela nudipes)

Photo credit unknown

The Malayan weasel or bare-footed weasel lives in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand: on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo and the southern half of the Malay Peninsula. Malayan weasels have a body length of 12–14 inches and a tail length of 9.4–10.2 inches.

Appearance

Perhaps one of the most aesthetically pleasing species in terms of colouration, with a pure white head in stark contrast to the overall warm palette, with a golden brown body, orange-buff bib (throat and chest patch) and one third of its tail pale buff to white, matching the light head. The Malayan weasel’s alternate- as well as its scientific name nudipes accurately describes one of its most striking characteristics- that the soles around the paw pads are entirely hairless, although the purpose of this characteristic is unknown. Furthermore, the Malayan weasel has a somewhat shaggy appearance compared to the short and glossy coat of most weasels.

Behaviour

.

Diet

Size: 30–36 cm / 12–14 in (males)
Tail length: 24–26 cm / 9.4–10.2 in (males)
Weight: 598 g / 20.8 oz (males)
Lifespan: Not reported.
Range: The Sundaic sub-region of Southeast Asia.
Conservation status: Least concern
Recognised subspecies(1)

  1. M. n. leucocephalus
  2. M. n. nudipes

References

  1. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Mustela nudipes in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

(11) Siberian Weasel (Mustela sibirica)

Photo by Alpsdake

The Siberian weasel, also known as the kolonok or kolinsky, is a medium-sized weasel native to Asia, where it is widely distributed and inhabits various forest habitats and open areas. They have also been introduced to several southern islands of Japan.

Appearance

With its overall orange-buff fur this species has a luxurious exterior, giving the impression of a fiery golden weasel. The face has a contrasting brown mask with a matching nose and a white chin and upper lip patches. The body shape is a harmonic combination of the typical weasel sleekness and bulk, which is further strengthened by its unusually narrow skull and strong chin.

Winter coat: Longer, denser and lighter in colour than in summer.

Human benefits

The long guard hairs from the tail is valued for their soft quality, and for this reason they have been used to make some of the most exclusive paint brushes on the market. These brushes are under the name konlinsky sable hair or simply sable, but as the case often is with fur trade terminology, it messes up the names of species that have no genetic relation whatsoever. Apart from the dark colour that goes under the same name, a sable is a species of marten, implying the brushes are made from marten hair, when in reality the material comes from an entirely different species of mustelid!

Range map

Size: 28–39 cm / 11–15 in (males), 25–30.5 cm / 9.8–12.0 in (females)
Tail length: 15.5–21 cm / 6.1–8.3 in (males), 13.3–16.4 cm / 5.2–6.5 in (females)
Weight: 650–820 g / 23–29 oz (males), 360–430 g / 13–15 oz (females)
Lifespan: 1–4 years
Range: Throughout eastern Asia, north to the Sea of Okhotsk, and south to Kwangtung in China. Introduced to several southern islands of Japan.
Conservation status: Least concern
Recognised subspecies(1)

  1. M. s. canigula
  2. M. s. charbinensis
  3. M. s. coreanus
  4. M. s. davidiana
  5. M. s. fontanierii
  6. M. s. hodgsoni
  7. M. s. manchurica
  8. M. s. moupinensis
  9. M. s. quelpartis
  10. M. s. sibirica
  11. M. s. subhemachalana

References

  1. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Mustela sibirica in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

(12) Stoat (Mustela erminea)

Photo of a stoat in its summer coat by Steve Daniels
Photo of a stoat in its winter coat by Steven Hint

The stoat, also known as the short-tailed weasel in North American English, or ermine when in its white winter coat, is native throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere. They are found across Europe, Asia and North America.

Appearance

During the summer months stoats are russet in colour on the head and dorsal surface, with off-white underparts that run from the chin to along the abdomen, and have a distinguished black-tipped tail. The black brush that helps us telling the stoat apart from any other species is not only eye-catching to a human observer, it has evolved to function as a decoy to distract predators, especially birds of prey. This becomes even more efficient against in winter, when northern weasels turn ermine: Against the white background and when seen from above, the ermine will appear like a flashing, dark dot thanks to its tail, keeping the pursuer from attacking the more vital parts of its body.

Winter coat: Same as the least weasel and the long-tailed weasel. Slightly longer, very dense and white. During the winter months when temperatures drop and the nights become longer, certain subspecies of stoats native to colder climates molt into their white winter coat. The tip of the tail always remains black.(1) 

Introduction to New Zealand

Stoats are known for taking down prey more than five times their size—using their sharp teeth to bite into the necks of larger animals such as rabbits. For this skill, during the 1870s and 1880s stoats were introduced to New Zealand to control the rabbit population. This act may have proved effective for the time, but it has since only resulted in a devastating effect on the bird population today,(2) prompting the New Zealand government to take action in eradicating them in their Predator Free 2050 programme.(3) Stoats are increasingly portrayed as vicious pests that prey upon helpless birds, but it was the European colonists who introduced them to the region. This is why we must always be self-accountable and cautious about introducing a foreign species to a new environment.

Diet

Aside from birds and rabbits, stoats prey on rodents, fish, eggs, insects, small reptiles and amphibians.(4)

Albino stoats

On rare occasions, a stoat can be born albino. The difference between an albino stoat and one that’s in ermine, is that albino stoats have pink eyes, and no black-tipped tail.(5) They would be seen in their white coats all year round; making them more vulnerable to predators when there is little to no snow about for natural camouflage.

Terminologies

Ermine: In the English language “ermine” is a term used to refer to the stoat’s white winter coat—a stoat is being “in ermine” while white. There are actually several animals that are refereed to as ermine when sporting a black and white colouration, such as ermine moths (Family Yponomeutidae).

Stoat vs. short-tailed weasel: The stoat is called a short-tailed weasel in North America while “stoat” is preferred by the rest of the English-speaking world; making the stoat largely the only member of the weasel family that has “weasel” absent from its common name. It should also be noted that the stoat is simply called a weasel in Ireland, where the least weasel is not known to live.

The “stoats and weasels” phrase: It is unclear why in England and New Zealand we continue to call one weasel a stoat, while the other is simply called a weasel. The phrase “stoats and weasels” is commonly used, when a stoat is a species of weasel. This phrase can be confusing for the average person who isn’t aware “weasel” is often used as a generic term to refer to the least weasel in these two countries. There can even be confusion over if the word “weasels” is being used to refer to a singular species, or multiple weasel species that aren’t stoats.

If you were ever a Redwall or Welkin Weasels fan as a child and couldn’t figure out why some weasel-like species were called stoats, while other species with near similar features were just called weasels, now you know! We were confused too.

Range map

Size: 25–35 cm / 10–14 in (males), 17–27 cm / 6–10 in (females)
Tail length: 7.5–12 cm / 3.0–4.7 in (males), 6.5–10.6 cm / 2.6–4.2 in (females)
Weight: 258–450 g / 9–15.8 oz (males), 90–180 g / 3–6.3 oz (females)
Lifespan: 1–2 years on average, 7 years at most.
Range: Widespread throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and introduced to New Zealand.
Conservation status: Least concern
Recognised subspecies(6)

  1. M. e. aestiva
  2. M. e. alascensis
  3. M. e. anguinae
  4. M. e. arctica
  5. M. e. augustidens
  6. M. e. bangsi
  7. M. e. celenda
  8. M. e. cigognanii
  9. M. e. erminea
  10. M. e. fallenda
  11. M. e. ferghanae
  12. M. e. gulosa
  13. M. e. haidarum
  14. M. e. hibernica
  15. M. e. initis
  16. M. e. invicta
  17. M. e. kadiacensis
  18. M. e. kaneii
  19. M. e. karaginensis
  20. M. e. lymani
  21. M. e. martinoi
  22. M. e. minima
  23. M. e. mongolica
  24. M. e. muricus
  25. M. e. nippon
  26. M. e. ognevi
  27. M. e. olympica
  28. M. e. polaris
  29. M. e. richardsonii
  30. M. e. ricinae
  31. M. e. salva
  32. M. e. seclusa
  33. M. e. semplei
  34. M. e. stabilis
  35. M. e. streatori
  36. M. e. teberdina
  37. M. e. tobolica

References

  1. Harris, S., and D. W. Yalden. “Mammals of the British Isles, 4th edn (Southampton: Mammal Society).” (2008). p. 457
  2. King, Carolyn Immigrant killers: introduced predators and the conservation of birds in New Zealand. Oxford University Press, 1984.
  3. Linklater, Wayne, and Jamie Steer. “Predator Free 2050: A flawed conservation policy displaces higher priorities and better, evidence‐based alternatives.” Conservation Letters 11.6 (2018): e12593.
  4. Heptner, V. G., and A. A. Sludskii. “Mammals of the Soviet Union. Vol. II, part 1b, Carnivores (Mustelidae and Procyonidae).” Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Libraries and National Science Foundation (2002). p. 1018
  5. Fairley, J. S. “New data on the Irish stoat.” The Irish Naturalists’ Journal (1971): 49-57.
  6. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Mustela erminea in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

(13) Yellow-Bellied Weasel (Mustela kathiah)

Photo by Jitendra Bhatia

The yellow-bellied weasel lives in the pine forests of Bhutan, Burma, China, India, Laos, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam.(1)

Appearance

The species is named for its deep yellow-colored underbelly, while the rest of its pelt is dark brown. The upper lip, chin and throat are a lighter yellow-white colour.(2)

Diet

Yellow-bellied weasels prefer to consume mice, rats, voles and other small mammals. They will also prey on birds.(3)(4)

Benefits to humans

The Nepalese have been known to keep yellow-bellied weasels as pets to manage rodent populations in their homes. It is also reported that they have even been trained to attack geese, goats, and sheep for sport.(2)(4)(5)

Range map

Size: 250–270 mm / 9.84–10.63 in (males)
Weight: 1.56 kg / 3.44 lb (males)
Lifespan: Not reported.
Range: Central and eastern Asia.
Conservation status: Least concern
Recognised subspecies(6)

  1. M. k. caporiaccoi
  2. M. k. kathiah
References

  1. “Yellow-bellied weasel”Thai National Parks.
  2. Hussain, S. A. “Mustelids, viverrids and herpestids of India: species profile and conservation status.” ENVIS Bulletin 2.2 (1999): 1-38.
  3. Nowak, J. L., and John L. Paradiso. “Walker’s mammals of the world.” JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSTY PRESS, BALTIMORE(USA). 1983. (1983).
  4. Jha, A. “Status of the weasel family in Sikkim.” Tigerpaper (FAO) (1999).
  5. Sterndale, Robert Armitage. Natural history of the Mammalia of India and Ceylon. Thacker, Spink, 1884.
  6. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Mustela kathiah in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

(14) African Striped Weasel (Poecilogale albinucha)
This species shares the common name “weasel”, but it is not closely related to other species on this page.

Photo by Devonpike

The African striped weasel is native to sub-Saharan Africa, and is one of the smallest carnivores on the continent. It is black and white (or yellowish) in colour and closely resembles a skunk. They have a body length of around 300 mm (11 inches), and weight between 250-350 grams (9-12 ounces).  Males are slightly larger the females.

Their diet consists of rodents, young birds, reptiles, and insects on occasion.

Appearance

.

Behaviour

.

Diet

Conservation status: Least concern

(15) Patagonian Weasel (Lyncodon patagonicus)
This species shares the common name “weasel”, but it is not closely related to other species on this page.

Photo credit unknown

The Patagonian weasel is the only member of the genus Lyncodon,(1) and is one of the least known mustelids in South America. Very little is known about this species, but it can be found in both southern Argentina and southeastern Chile. It inhabits herbaceous and shrub steppes in arid and semiarid areas.(2)(3)(4)(5)

Similar to the regional greater grison and tayra, the Patagonian weasel has been reported to be kept as a trained pet by some locals to hunt and trap small terrestrial animals; mainly rodents.(6)

Appearance

.

Behaviour

.

Diet

Range map

Size: 30–35 cm / 12–14 in (males)
Weight: 225 g / 7,93 oz (males)
Lifespan: Not reported.
Range: Southern Argentina and southeastern Chile.
Conservation status: Least concern
Recognised subspecies(7)

  1. M. k. caporiaccoi
  2. M. k. kathiah
References

  1. Wilson, Don E., and DeeAnn M. Reeder, eds. Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Vol. 1. JHU Press, 2005.
  2. Larivière, S., and A. P. Jennings. “Mustelidae (weasels and relatives).” Handbook of the mammals of the world 1 (2009): 564-656.
  3. Osgood, Wilfred Hudson. The mammals of Chile. Field Museum of Natural History, 1943.
  4. Prevosti, F. J., and U. F. J. Pardiñas. “Variaciones corológicas de Lyncodon patagonicus (Carnivora, Mustelidae) durante el Cuaternario.” Mastozoología Neotropical 8.1 (2001): 21-39.
  5. Schiaffini, Mauro I., et al. “Distribution of Lyncodon patagonicus (Carnivora, Mustelidae): changes from the Last Glacial Maximum to the present.” Journal of Mammalogy 94.2 (2013): 339-350.
  6. Nowak, Ronald M., and Ernest Pillsbury Walker. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Vol. 1. JHU press, 1999.
  7. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Lyncodon patagonicus in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

American Mink | Badgers | Ferret-Badgers | Ferrets & Polecats | Fisher | Grisons | Martens | Otters | Tayra | Weasels | Wolverine