Slinky Short-tailed Weasel
Whether you call it a weasel, an ermine, or a stoat, you can call the short-tailed weasel an amazing animal. The slinky weasel has sensational moves, a super appetite, and a slick coat that changes color with the seasons!
A Natural Athlete
The short-tailed weasel's slinky body is slim enough to follow mice into their burrows, and its spine is flexible enough to turn around inside a tunnel! Above ground, this speedy weasel can travel through long grass at amazing speeds, take sudden leaps and bounds, and change direction altogether in an instant! At 7 to 13 inches long when full grown, the short tailed weasel is small, but mighty!
The short-tailed weasel can also climb trees like a squirrel, and swim like a champion. It’s not unusual for a short tailed weasel to swim across a large river or lake.
With all this activity and a heart rate of 500 beats per minute, weasels burn up a great deal of energy, so they need to eat plenty.
The short-tailed weasel is an important predator that helps keep rodent populations in check. It is so fast, it can easily catch a young rabbit or chipmunk. It is so agile, it can slither into small burrows and nab mice, voles and shrews. By feasting on some pesky rodents, these weasels help protect agricultural crops and reduce the spread of diseases carried by rodents.
Like other weasels, the short-tailed weasel roams a variety of habitats, including open woodlands, grasslands, wetlands, and farmlands. They hunt and patrol their territory between dusk and dawn, and can cover up to 10 miles a night.
While they are out and about, the weasels must be careful not to become snacks, themselves! Larger predators such hawks, owls, snakes, house cats, foxes and other carnivorous mammals like to munch on weasel flesh.
Home Sweet Home?
The short-tailed weasel often makes its home in the burrow of an animal it has killed. Then, the weasel makes the burrow homey by lining it with the fur of its prey!
There is a reason the short-tailed weasel has such a cute face. It has excellent eyesight, but in the darkness of its burrow, it relies on its long, sensitive whiskers to find its way around. It also uses its long, elegant nose to sniff out friends, family and prey.
The female usually has her first litter of 4 to 8 pups about the time of her first birthday. The pups grow up quickly, and begin to kill their own prey at 10 to 12 weeks of age.
Short-tailed weasels completely shed their fur and grow a new coat twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. In the fall, as the days gradually get shorter, the weasel begins to shed. The color of the new fur depends on the temperature. If it is cold enough, the winter coat comes in white to blend with snow. If it is not so cold, or if the temperature drops and then rises quickly, the winter coat may have patches of white and brown, or stay completely brown. This is nature’s best guess at providing camouflage to help keep the weasel safe from predators. When spring comes and the days grow longer, the extra daylight triggers the weasel to shed again, and grow a new brown coat.
When the short-tailed weasel is wearing its white winter coat, it is also known as an ermine. When the weasel is in its brown phase, it is also known as a stoat. Whether its coat is white or brown, the very tip of the short-tailed weasel’s tail stays black.
Weasels Around the World…
The weasel’s beautiful coat, high energy and amazing maneuvers have inspired some traditions and myths over the years.
In Europe, short-tailed weasel furs were a symbol of royalty, and royal robes were often trimmed with snowy white ermine, or fringed with black-tipped ermine tails. The short-tailed weasel was also considered a symbol of purity in Europe. In the Renaissance era, legend had it that a short-tailed weasel would die before allowing its pure white coat to be dirty. When it was being chased by hunters, it would supposedly turn around and give itself up to the hunters rather than risk getting soiled.
In some Nordic countries, the energetic ermine is a symbol of curiosity and timely action. In some areas of Japan, the weasel is a symbol of good luck because of its adorable appearance and somewhat elusive nature.
…and Close to Home
The slinky short-tailed weasel has been very sly in adapting to its environment. As Ohio’s landscape has changed over the last 150 years, the weasel population has continued to increase. Still, the weasel is very secretive and very good at blending in with its surroundings.
Many of our state parks in the northern part of Ohio have the kinds of habitat that are wonderful for weasels. Take a hike with your family in one of our parks, and look for tracks in the snow, or in the mud near a stream bank or lakeshore. You may be lucky enough to see the slinky short-tailed weasel in action!