Table of Contents
- The Weasel ： Detailed Introduction & Fun Facts
The Weasel ： Detailed Introduction & Fun Facts
Have you been out in the woods and seen a cute creature that you couldn’t identify? The chances are good, depending on where you live that you might have seen a weasel. Weasels are fascinating rodents belonging to the Mustelidae family and share some traits with animals like polecats, ferrets and minks. Here you will find everything you need to know about weasels and first of all, how to identify a weasel so you will know in future what you’re looking at.
Identification of a Weasel
To identify a weasel, there are certain defining features that you will need to look at. You’ll also need to know about their color and size to make the proper identification. In North America, the most common weasel is the long-tailed weasel and in Europe, the most common weasel is the least weasel. Let’s explore these quick, agile and alert animals.
Defining Features of Weasel
A weasel has a small, narrow head with a pointed snout and a long neck. They have four short legs and a slim, elongated body. This long, trim body makes them very flexible. Long-tailed weasels have the longest tails (unsurprisingly). Their tails are longer than half their body length. The least weasel, on the other hand, has a tail that is about one quarter of their body length.
What’s the Size of Weasel?
The male long-tailed weasel common to North America averages about 14-16″ (355-400mm) long. They can grow up to 22″ (560mm) long though. Males are noticeably larger than females and the females measure up at an average of 11-13″ (280-330mm) long. The least weasel, as the name would suggest, is smaller. The males measure on average 8-9″ (200-230mm)and the females 6.5-8″ (165-200mm) long. Least weasels in Europe are typically 2-2.5 times larger than the least weasel in North America.
What’s the Color of Weasel?
You may think that the least weasel is just a smaller long-tailed weasel but aside from their size and differences in tail length, they also have a slight difference when it comes to their coloring. The least weasel is dark brown except for its white underside. Their feet are white and their tail is all brown.
The long-tailed weasel is a medium brown with a white to the yellowish underside. Their tails are brown with a black tip and brown feet. In the winter, the long-tailed weasel turns white for camouflage in the snow. The tip of their tail stays black.
Weasels vs Minks
It can be easy to confuse weasels with their cousins the minks but we can easily tell them from a weasel by their color and tails. The mink has a lustrous chocolate brown to black fur coat. They do NOT have white underbellies and their tails are long and somewhat bushy.
Minks also never stray too far from a water source. They are at home in the water and tend to live near lakes, rivers and streams. They can dive down in water up to 16 feet (2.5 m).
Weasels vs Stoats
To confuse things even a little further, there is another species of weasel called the short-tailed weasel, ermine or stoat. Stoats look very similar in terms of coloring to the least weasel but are larger – they can be up to 13” in size. Their tails measure about one third their body length so they fit right in between the least weasel and the long-tailed weasel nicely. The line of the brown to cream colored fur is very straight.
Hopefully, this information will help you in the identification of a weasel and now let’s learn more about these good-looking animals.
We know now what weasels look like but now we need to know where they live. Weasels are found all over the world, except for Antarctica, Australia and the neighboring islands.
They live forested, brushy or open areas like farmland and open fields. These areas are preferable due to the abundant small prey. They also need to have a close water source. The least weasel has a home range of about 3 acres. The long-tailed weasel has a range of up to 16 acres. A male and female’s territory will sometimes overlap and be smaller when food is plentiful and larger when food is scarce.
Weasels make their dens in abandoned burrows and use the hair from their prey to line their nests. They also use grass and leaves. The least weasel may make their den in tree stumps or holes in walls. They are known to climb trees to catch prey but the least weasel is active primarily underground.
The size of the prey of any given weasel is largely influenced by its own size. Large males will take larger prey than the smaller females. Generally speaking, weasels, as carnivores, will feed mostly on rodents.
The least weasel eats almost exclusively mice and voles. Larger males have been known to eat shrews, birds and moles. The long-tailed weasel’s preferred prey is also mice and voles but due to their larger stature, they also venture to eat shrews, birds, rats and rabbits. The long-tailed weasel also gets into trouble and has a less than stellar reputation among some chicken farmers. They have been known to steal eggs and even kill chickens.
Weasels have sharp teeth and claws to help with their hunting and can attack and capture prey twice their size. They kill their prey by biting the back of their neck. They prefer to eat the brains, organs and muscles of their prey. Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?
A weasel will also consume insects but they are not their preferred diet. Typically, weasels will only consume insects when their preferred diet is scarce. Weasels do this because they need to consume between 30-40% of their body weight each day to stay on the top of their game. They usually do this by eating many small meals. They have a very thin layer of fat and a high metabolism. They are active both day and night because it takes a lot of hunting to keep their bellies full.
Weasels are adept hunters and use their speed and agility to their advantage. They have well-developed senses of smell, sight and hearing which they exploit to get the best prey. They are good climbers and the long-tailed weasels are good swimmers so it’s very hard to escape them if you’re prey.
Weasels are known to be hoarders. When hunting is easy and prey is plentiful, weasels will save their treasures for later. Since weasels have evolved in cold climates, they have learned to dig small holes, usually near the entrance to their dens, where they will store the leftover food.
A weasel will attack a moving target if it deems it as prey simple on instinct. Even when they aren’t hungry. It’s a good thing they have somewhere to store that unnecessary food so it doesn’t go to waste. Does anyone else have an image of a weasel packing up mice into Tupperware containers or is it just me?
Weasels as Prey
We now know what weasels eat, but what eats weasels? Both the least weasel and the long-tailed weasel have the same predators. They are usually in danger from above from birds of prey like falcons, eagles, hawks and owls. Young, small and baby weasels are at high risk of becoming the prey of a large raptor, unfortunately. It’s a good thing the least weasel spends a lot of time underground – much safer that way. They try to stay hidden as much as possible.
In addition to the predators in the sky, weasels also have land predators so it would seem that they are never really safe. Common land predators for weasels include foxes, cats, snakes and even other weasels.
Humans are another land “predator” of weasels. Their home ranges will often coincide with our populated areas and as a result, weasels often get hit by cars on country roads. They will also be trapped and relocated or killed if they become a nuisance to us. There is also the concern of habitat loss as fields and farmland are converted to homes and retail outlets.
They really do have to always be watching their backs – it’s a good thing they’re quick. Even with everything and everyone that hunts them, neither the least weasel or the long-tailed weasel are considered an endangered species in either Europe or North America. I guess they must be doing something right.
Are Weasels Dangerous?
A common concern, especially if you have seen some weasels in and around your home, is whether or not weasels are dangerous to us humans. While they don’t pose a significant threat, they can hurt you because of their sharp teeth and claws. Lucky for us, when challenged or scared, a weasel will typically flee rather than taking an offensive approach. If pushed, they can emit a strong, pungent odor to deter predators.
If you are face to face with a weasel, it’s best to simply retreat rather than risking injury. If weasels are common in your area, take the opportunity with children to educate them about these animals and how to behave should they cross paths with one.
Some of the most pronounced differences between the least weasel and the long-tailed weasel are apparent in their reproduction. For examples, the least weasel mates year round and has no delayed implantation. This means that after mating, there is a 35 day gestation period and then the babies, called kits, are born. The long-tailed weasel on the other hand mates in mid summer but the kits are not born until the following spring. They experience delayed implantation with a 23-24 day active gestation period.
The least weasel can have up to 3 litters per year since they mate year round with no delayed implantation. The long-tailed weasel will only have one litter per year.
As for the kits themselves, other than their size (long-tailed weasel kits are larger), they share many common attributes. They reach their adult weight and length by about 12 weeks. They are born naked, blind and deaf and a fine white hair with cover them within 1-4 days. Their eyes open at 30-35 days and their ears open at 21-28 days.
Generally speaking, only the female weasel will care for her young. Weasels are solitary as adults but the male long-tailed weasel may assist with hunting for food for his offspring for a short time after their birth. They may also be motivated to help due to the possibility of exclusive breeding right with the female.
Weasels, like most animals, make sounds based on how they are feeling. The least weasel’s vocalization would be best described as a murmur. When he or she is scared, surprised or disturbed they will give a shrill squeaky call. You can also hear them hissing when they are upset or threatened.
Weasel sounds range from soft barks and hisses to whistles, chirps and squeaking. The long-tailed weasel has a screechy squeal as a call that it will use when disturbed but it also purrs. Yes, purrs. If a long-tailed weasel is happy, you can audibly hear it purring. If they weren’t cute enough…
Some of the sounds weasels make might be cute but if you have a large weasel population around your home, you might not find them so charming. They are active both day and night so listening to weasel sounds while you are trying to sleep is not ideal.
The average lifespan of a weasel in the wild is not well documented. Many long-tailed weasels don’t live past one year of age. Once they do make it to adulthood, they can live for another several years. In captivity, the average lifespan of a long-tailed weasel is 8.8 years.
The least weasel has an average lifespan of 2 years in the wild and 6 years in captivity. The large difference in the wild vs captivity lifespans gives you an idea of how challenging it might be to be a wild weasel.
Weasels as Pets
You may think that weasels, especially the smaller least weasel, are small, cute and furry and therefore would make a good pet. Trust me, this is not the case. DO NOT catch a wild weasel and bring it into your home as a pet.
Weasels are wild animals that can harm you and are illegal to keep as pets. Lucky for you, if you want the same cuteness and furriness, there is an alternative. You can get a ferret.
Ferrets are similar in size, appearance and energy level to weasels but take well to living an indoor domesticated life. They are playful and energetic and the perfect alternative to the crime of having a weasel as a pet.
Fun Facts About Weasels
- The least weasel is the smallest carnivore in the world. It’s nice to be famous for something, isn’t it? Incidentally, the largest carnivore in the world is the Southern Elephant Seal where the males weigh in between 800-2000 lbs (400-900kg). To demonstrate the difference, a least weasel weighs 1.8oz (50g).
- The least weasel can run up to 6 miles per hour (9.5 km/h). Think about how small its little legs are and you will see how amazing this fact really is.
- The long-tailed weasel is the most widespread carnivore in the western hemisphere. I guess if someone in North America said that weasels are everywhere, they wouldn’t be lying.
- Weasels dance. Scientists are unsure why but weasels do a dance by hopping, twisting and darting around once they have cornered their prey. They think they do this to further confuse the prey but there have been cases reported of weasels dancing with no prey in sight.
- Weasels don’t hibernate. They have adapted to both cold and warm temperatures, most significantly by changing their coat color to white for winter to aid in hunting.
- Weasels move across the ground in a series of small jumps. When they are checking things out they raise to stand on only two feet to get a better view of their surroundings.
Now you have all the information you will ever need on weasels and how to make an identification of a weasel in the wild. They can be elusive so if you do see one of these cute creatures, stop and observe it from a distance. Dazzle your friends with your new found ability to identify them.
Whether or not weasels are considered pests or vermin really depends on where you are and who you ask. The good thing about having them around is that there will be a lot less mice for you to worry about. As long as you don’t have any chickens or eggs, you should be ok.