Weasels are relatively small, nimble mammals that are members of the Mustelidae family, which also includes long-bodied animals such as wolverines, ferrets, badgers and certain skunk species. There are three weasel species that call North America home, the most prevalent being the long-tailed weasel. Below are a few interesting weasel facts you might not know.
General Weasel Facts
- Scientific Genera: Mustela
- Common Features: long and thin, fur-covered body; red, brown or white coat with a light underbelly; short legs; small head with rounded ears on either side.
- US Species Identification:
Weasels live in a variety of habitats, such as open fields, woodlands, thickets, roadsides and farmlands. They typically thrive in environments abundant with small prey (like small rodents) and with an available source of water. Most weasels live in either abandoned burrows, or nests under trees or rockpiles.
Weasels are carnivores that mainly prey on small vertibrates. They are adept hunters that eat around 40% of their body weight each day. Rodents make up a large part of their diets, although they are known to be opportunistic predators that will feed on whatever’s available to them.
Some favorite foods include:
- Activity: Since they do not hibernate, weasels are active all year long. Depending on the climate and season, they may display nocturnal or diurnal behavior.
- Reproduction: Females reach sexual maturity at about 3 months of age. Mating typically occurs in late spring and summer and gestation periods vary with the species.
- Hunting: Weasels are cunning and adept predators that hunt prey tirelessly throughout the day and night. They’re skilled climbers, swimmers and runners. Their long, slender bodies allow them to raid underground burrows, follow rodents into small spaces and wrap themselves around larger prey to hold them still. Weasels often kill more prey than they can eat, storing the overkill for later consumption.
- Social Behavior: Aside from when they are mating or weaning young, weasels are solitary animals that fend for themselves in the wild. They are known to be territorial, defending their home ranges when invaded.
While many homeowners benefit from the presence of weasels as they often control rodent populations, weasels can be a nuisance when they gain access to poultry houses and prey on fowl or pets.
Signs of weasels and their damage include:
- Killed poultry, often bitten in the head or neck
- Stolen poultry eggs
- Killed rabbits
- Weasel tracks: small footprints with five toes and visible clawmarks on each foot
- The least weasel is the world’s smallest mamilian carnivore.
- Some weasel species have fur that changes color; in the winter, their fur will turn white to blend in with the snow. This is often referred to as the “ermine” phase.
- A group of weasels may be referred to as a “boogle”, “confusion”, “gang” or “pack”.
- Weasels often prey on animals larger than themselves.
- Much like their skunk relatives, weasels release foul-smelling secretions from their anal glands as a defense mechanism, and perhaps even to mark their territory.