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Short-tailed Weasel (Mustela erminea) 	April 23, 2024

Short-tailed Weasel (Mustela erminea) April 23, 2024

Short-tailed Weasel (Mustela erminea)

Weasels seem to have an image problem.  Throughout history, in children’s stories, and in comparisons to people the weasel is beady-eyed, pointy nosed, and characterized as being a shifty dishonest character.  These descriptions do the weasel a disservice.  The Short-tailed Weasel is canny and exceptional hunter.

October was only a week away and all the squirrels seemed to have disappeared, how strange!  There are also no mice trying to move into the house for the winter.  As nights come earlier and the woodstove is on in the mornings and evenings wood is brought in every day.  The dog is interested and sniffs and paws at the ground by the woodshed.  Something is living in there and it is not the squirrel.  A flash of brown and a slender tail disappears into the back corner.  The Short-tailed Weasel is back.  He is seldom seen but the lack of squirrels and other rodents is sure sign that he has taken up residents in the woodshed again.  Moving forward to March my neighbour is surprised one morning when going to the garage to retrieve a roast that was set out to thaw the night before she spies the now white coated Short-tailed Weasel licking blood off the plate.  The garage door has been open for a short time while some things were moved out and Mr. Weasel obviously sniffed out a tasty meal.  He bounded away but returned a short time later for another feed eyeing the homeowners all the while.

  File:Short-tailed weasel on the ground (44738918402).jpg - Wikimedia Commons

The Short-tailed Weasel is the most common weasel in British Columbia.  Though numerous the are seldom seen.  They hunt mostly at night and prefer areas with dense cover.  As the weasel explores its territory it will investigate every hole, burrow, brush pile, and obviously woodsheds and garages.  The Short-tailed Weasel is excellent hunter, fearless and fast, it will grab its prey and bite it with its sharp needle like canines in the back of the neck or skull.

The weasel’s short summer coat is brown on the top and creamy white on the underparts.  The feet are tipped in white, and it has short, rounded ears, and black shading on the end of the tail.  As winter approaches in October these animals go through a complete colour transformation and are totally white except for the black tip on the tail and a dark fringe around the ears.  Both these colour phases help keep them well camouflaged no matter what season.  It was often thought that there were two different species, but we now know it is just a colour change.  Often referred to as Ermine in the winter and in many parts of Europe they are called Stoats.

Their diet is made up of voles, mice, chipmunks, squirrels, bird’s eggs, nestlings, and insects.  They will eat every part of the animal except the stomach, which they carefully remove and leave intact. Their favourite den sites are burrows of mice, ground squirrels and chipmunks.  They modify these to weasel taste adding dried grass, and the pelts and feathers of their prey.  Hollow logs and outbuildings are also used.

These weasels typically mate in late summer, shortly after the embryos stops developing .  In early spring the embryos implant in the uterus and the young are born in April or May.  The female gives birth to 4-8 blind and helpless young weighing about 1.6 grams.  They are slow to develop with their eyes opening in about 5 weeks.  Shortly after they will join the family on hunts.  At this time a male usually joins the family impregnating the mother and all the female young.  He also helps to train the young in hunting skills.  The young females are sexually mature at 2-3 months while the young males do not mature until the following spring.

Two other species of weasel live in B.C., the Least Weasel lives in the northern reaches and Rocky Mountain trench areas and is smaller with a short tail that is not black tipped.  The Long-tailed Weasel inhabits the south and eastern sections of the province.  It is the larger of the three and has orangish underparts and yellowish-brown feet.  The range of all three species overlap.

   File:Short-tailed Weasel (9514000664).jpg - Wikimedia Commons

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