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October 10, 2016
Weasels are small mammals with long slender bodies and necks, short legs, a small head, sharp teeth and claws. They have keen senses and are quick, agile, skilled hunters.
Their small size and body shape allow them to follow mice and other prey right into their burrows.
Weasels are one of the few animals that will kill more than it can eat. It will store the extra in burrows and will eat this excess if it can't find fresh food.
The weasel's body shape is efficient for hunting, but isn't the best for conserving energy or staying warm, which is why they will always kill prey if able (even if they just ate). Their metabolism is so high they can eat up to a 1/3 of their body weight in a day.
Weasels mostly eat mice and other small rodents, but will also eat eggs, berries, birds, and animals much larger than themselves like rabbits.
From left to right: Least weasel, Long-tailed weasel, and Short-tailed weasel
These are the three weasel species that live in North America (they are found on other continents as well).
The smallest weasel. Brown above, white underneath, Short all brown tail
Size: About 6-9 inches (males larger than females)
Range: Throughout much of the northern hemisphere: North America, Europe, and Asia
Also called a Stoat or Ermine. Brown with white underneath / white feet. Black tip on tail.
Size: About 7-12 inches (males roughly twice the size of females)
Range: Northern hemisphere in North America, Europe, North Africa, and Asia
Brown with white or tan underneath. Long tail with black tip.
Size: About 11-16 inches (males larger than females)
Range: Americas: from southern Canada, US, and Mexico through Central America into parts of northern South America.
All North American weasels turn white in northern ranges. The white Winter coat helps them camouflage in the snow from both prey and predators. Weasels in the southern ranges stay brown all year long.
The change is color is triggered by length of day (not temperature).
The short-tailed and long-tailed weasels keep the black tip on their tail during the Winter. It can help them distract and escape from predators. Hawks and other predators will focus on and try to grab the black tip, making it easier for the weasel to get away.
Weasels don't hibernate, they will hunt above and under the snow during the Winter.
Above: Ermine / Short-tailed weasel has a brown coat in the spring, summer, and fall. It turns white in the winter (tail tip stays black).
Baby weasels are called kits or kittens.
Weasels stomp their feet when annoyed. (Skunks do the same as a warning before spraying.)
Weasels exhibit a behavior known by some as the "weasel war dance". They excitedly dash around, flop, and jump about. It's not exactly clear why they do this. They could be distracting their prey until they are close enough, or maybe they are just really excited.
The weasel family (Mustelids) are a large and diverse group that includes over 50 species. It includes otters, minks, pine martens, fishers, wolverines, ferrets, polecats, and badgers. It formerly included skunks, but new testing puts them in their own separate family. Although mongooses have a similar body shape they are not closely related to weasels.