Weasel

 

weasel


It’s a good thing long-tailed weasels can’t enter pie-eating contests because if they could, no human could compete with them.

Though its appetite is huge, the long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata) is the smallest member of its family, which includes mink, otter, skunk, fisher, marten, wolverine, and badger. Long-tailed weasels, most abundant in northeast Oklahoma, have long, skinny bodies, short legs and a small, narrow head with long whiskers. Northern populations of weasels shed their summer brown coats for a white coat during the winter. Oklahoma’s weasels shed their fur twice each year and sport a brown coat, cream belly, and a bushy, black-tipped tail.

Long-tailed weasels have adapted well to habitat changes brought on by man. They can be found in a variety of habitats including woodlands, agricultural fields, bottomland waterways, and brushy areas. Weasels are often found near rock piles and firewood stacks and are known to nest in hollow logs and under barns.

The long-tailed weasel is an efficient and beneficial predator. It has the highest metabolic rate among mammals of similar size which fuels a never-ending hunger. Weasels have a reputation for raiding chicken houses and birds nests, but are much more likely to attack farm pests, especially rodents. Their lengthy, agile bodies are perfect for underground hunting, pursuing gophers, ground squirrels, mice, and shrews in their burrows. The much larger males may even attack larger prey such as cottontail rabbits. After picking up on a scent or sound, they follow their prey until making a quick attack. Small mammals make up 95 percent of the weasel diet, but they’ll also consume birds, reptiles, fruits, and berries.

Weasels occupy a home range of 30 acres or more depending on prey abundance. The home range of a male weasel may overlap with those of several females and males may occupy one area their whole life. Females are known to move several times throughout their lives.

Although long-tailed weasels can be seen day and night, they are primarily nocturnal, venturing from the den an hour after sundown. Females often travel farther than males, searching for food or new den sites. The weasel’s vulnerability to heat loss limits excursions from the den during the cold winter months.

Throughout most of the year, long-tailed weasel males and females live separately from each other. They co-habitat during the breeding season with mating occurring in July or August and four to eight young born in April or early May. Young weasels or kits are born blind and have wrinkled skin and white fur. After two months of receiving meals from their mother, the young are able to kill prey on their own. Female weasels are sexually mature after only three months while males take 12 months to mature.

Because of the secretive nature of the long-tailed weasel, population estimates are difficult to obtain. Long-tailed weasel pelts were a part of the early American fur trade, but were never a popular commodity and weasels were never extensively trapped. Today, populations of long-tailed weasels remain stable throughout North America, though local populations fluctuate in conjunction with prey availability.

The hungry, fearless weasel is always looking for a quick meal, and we should be grateful he usually finds it.