Friday, October 5, 2012

Pop Goes Our Weasel

When we find a critter hole in our fields, we always wonder what is living there.  Skunks, mink, armadillo, all come to mind.  When we saw a hole near the old Mail Trace Road we decided to break out the ancient game camera and set it up.  We were surprised to find a few pictures of a weasel!

The long-tailed weasel (a.k.a. bridled weasel or big stoat*) ranges from southern Canada down to Central America.  They are said to be present throughout Missouri although relatively uncommon, mostly found in the south-central and southwest.

These voracious little carnivores eat only live creatures, usually rodents, preferably still twitching.  The are famous for taking on far larger prey.  They hunt mainly by smell, twitching their head side to side as they lope along the ground, seldom walking or running.*

A few interesting facts:
  • They breed from July to August but don't deliver until the following April to May.  Much of this 270 day period the fetuses float freely in the womb.  After developing for two weeks, they continue to float around until they are implanted in the uterus 24 days before delivery.
  • Weasels remain active through the winter, living solitary lives in shallow burrows frequently appropriated from other mammals.  They hunt day and night, their curiosity leading them around large areas.
  • They may cover an area a mile wide and two miles long over a period of days.  They may take a bird, eggs or even bats if rats and mice are not available.  
  • Although frequently blamed for killing chickens, this is not their primary food source as they eat far more rodents.  They have been trapped for their pelts but are usually incidental catches as their pelts never bring the big bucks.
Over all, they are a positive force in our ecology, causing little harm and lots of good.  Heaven knows, between rats, mice, rabbits and squirrels, there is a lot for them to consume while maintaining the balance of nature.

Incidentally, this weasel has benefited the economy as it forced me to buy a better game camera for next time.

Many of these more colorful description come from Wild Mammals of Missouri by Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz.

* How do you tell a long-tailed weasel from a stoat?  A weasel is weasily distinguished while a stoat is stoatally  different.     -Bill Nichols 
(A stoat is a short-tailed weasel)

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