Those elegant weasels

In North America there are three species of weasel: the long-tailed weasel, the ermine, and the least weasel. In spite of their similar appearance and way of life, they can be distinguished by their respective sizes and by some specific characteristics.

All three have a slender, elongated body, a long neck and big round ears. Their pelt, which is brown in summer, becomes progressively whiter as winter approaches; it’s a practical, useful camouflage. Weasels tend to be found in marshy terrain, brush, and fields. They slide easily into the burrows of small mammals, voles, mice, shrews, and red squirrels, which make up the large part of their diet.

They complete their menu with birds, amphibians, snakes or arthropods. By controlling the population of small rodents, weasels reduce damage to market gardens and slow the progress of Lyme disease, of which the deer mouse is a significant vector.

They are less helpful, however, when they creep into chicken runs and attack the hens. These predators, with their rapid movements, kill their prey quickly and efficiently by biting at the base of their skull. If hunting is good, weasels can store several of their victims in an underground cache with a view to a future meal.

How do you recognize them? The long-tailed weasel, the largest of the three, can be as long as 46 cm and its tail represents 40 per cent of its total length. The ermine is rarely longer than 33 cm and its tail is relatively short. And weighing in at less than 50 g and measuring less than 20 cm, the least weasel is America’s smallest carnivore.

In addition to its small size, it is differentiated from the other weasels by the fact that the tip of its tail is not black. Weasels move in bounds and make tunnels in the deep snow. Their dark-coloured droppings often contain hairs and small bones and have a typical coiled shape. Keep your eyes open, and these elegant creatures will charm you.

All three species of weasel found in Québec can be seen at Animalium, Mont-Tremblant’s zoological museum.

 

By the same author: The snowbound snowshoe hare (Click the image below)

 

Jacques Prescott83 Posts

Jacques Prescott est biologiste, professeur associé à la Chaire en éco-conseil de l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi et co-fondateur de l’Animalium, le musée zoologique de Mont-Tremblant. Spécialiste de la biodiversité et du développement durable, il est l’auteur de nombreux livres et articles sur la faune et la conservation de la nature. Il nous fait l’honneur de rejoindre notre équipe de collaborateurs et signera chaque mois une chronique intitulée Faune et flore. / Jacques Prescott is a biologist, associate professor with the Chair in Eco-Counselling of the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, and co-founder of Animalium, the zoological museum of Mont-Tremblant. A specialist in biodiversity and sustainable development, he is the author of numerous books and articles about wildlife and nature conservation. He has honoured us by joining our team of contributors and will write a monthly column entitled Wildlife and Habitat.

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