Weasels are small, short-legged carnivorous mammals of the genus Mustela. They are related to, and similar in shape to, polecats, stoats, ferrets, and minks. All members of this genus are highly active and ferocious predators. Read on to learn about the weasel.
Description of the Weasel
Weasels have a slim, elongated body with a small, flattish, triangular head. They have small, rounded ears but large eyes and a pointy snout with long whiskers. Their back is usually brown, gray, or black, but they have a white or yellow chin and belly. Males are much larger than the females, meaning they are sexually dimorphic.
Interesting Facts About the Weasel
Weasels are well adapted as an extremely efficient predatory carnivore. They have a highly active lifestyle and flexible reproductive system to take advantage of increases in the population of prey when these occur. Because of these characteristics, there are several interesting facts about weasels.
- Collective Noun – A group of weasels is known as a “sneak,” a “boogle,” a “gang,” or a “confusion.”
- High Metabolism – Weasels have a very high metabolic rate. It has been estimated they need to kill and eat about a quarter to a third of their body-weight every day.
- Hypnotic Dance – Once a prey animal has been cornered, weasels often perform a “dance” consisting of twists, hops, leaps, and rushing around their prey. The exact function of the dance is not known, but it potentially distracts or confuses the prey.
- Size – The least weasel is considered to be the smallest true carnivore in the world.
- Delayed Implantation – Some weasels reproduce by delayed implantation. Although mating occurs in early summer, the fertilized egg doesn’t immediately implant in the female’s uterus, but instead, lingers in her body until implanting the following spring.
Habitat of the Weasel
Because of their wide diet range, weasels live in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, hedgerows, long grass, and walls.
Distribution of the Weasel
Weasels are found almost worldwide but especially in Europe, North Africa, Asia, and North America.
Diet of the Weasel
Weasels are extremely efficient carnivores that eat a wide range of meat sources, such as mice, voles, shrews, lemmings, young rabbits, birds, and eggs.
Weasel and Human Interaction
Weasels are perceived by farmers as both friends and vermin; they are excellent at keeping pests such as plagues of mice under control, however, they are considered to be pests by farmers because they attack and eat poultry and eggs. Weasels have been introduced into New Zealand where they are a great threat to native wildlife; the country intends to eradicate them by 2050. In some locations around the world, weasels are threatened by habitat loss.
Weasels have not been domesticated, although the closely-related ferret has.
Does the Weasel Make a Good Pet
Weasels sometimes are kept as pets, however, it should be remembered they are non-domesticated, and can be highly aggressive. In some countries, because they are native wildlife, a permit may be required.
If weasels are kept as pets, they are probably best suited for being housed outdoors. If kept indoors, they can be messy and destructive.
Behavior of the Weasel
Weasels are territorial, and regularly patrol an area of approximately 20 acres (8 hectares). Males and females live in different territories, although these might overlap slightly. In a single night, they can travel up to 1.2 miles (2 km) hunting for prey. They usually have several different dens which they visit at various intervals.
The weasel’s slender body and small head allow them to hunt for prey hiding in burrows, and they kill their prey with a single bite to the back of the neck. They often store their surplus food in caches near the entrance to one of their nests. Weasels tend to move across the ground in a series of short looping jumps, and they stop frequently to stand on their hind legs and survey their environment. They are also excellent climbers.
In populations living at high latitudes, many species of weasels molt in the winter to having a white coat with black fur at the tip of the tail.
Reproduction of the Weasel
Weasels reach sexual maturity at 1 – 2 years of age. The female prepares a nest for breeding which is often located in an old vole or mouse burrow. Pregnancy (or gestation) lasts for approximately 1 month, and the female normally raises 1 litter of 3 – 6 young each year, although some may raise 2 litters. The babies are called “kittens” or “kits,” and are weaned after 4 – 5 weeks.
Beliefs, Superstitions, and Phobias About the Weasel
In Greek culture, a weasel was thought to be an unhappy bride who had been transformed into a weasel, so having one near to a house is considered to be a sign of bad luck, even evil. In North America, Native Americans considered the weasel to be a bad omen, and that crossing their path would result in a “speedy death.”