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Posts Tagged ‘short-tailed weasel’

Ermine (Mustela erminea), which is pronounced “er-men,” have three names. In North America, they are always called ermine or long-tailed weasels. In Europe and New Zealand, they are called stoats.

In North America, they tend to be found in the northern US and Canada, and most of them turn white in the winter.

Ermine coats are invariably of winter phase stoats from North America.

There is a related species called the long-tailed weasel(Mustela frenata), which is found from southern Canada to Bolivia. Some of the North American populations also turn white in winter.  The main difference between the species is that the long-tailed weasel has a significantly longer tail in proportion to its body size, and they are normally quite a bit larger. However, there is a size overlap.  The smallest long-tailed weasels are about the same size as the largest stoats. Long-tailed weasels are much larger than least weasels (Mustela nivalis), which are the smallest Carnivorans. Least weasels, like the stoat, are found in both Eurasia and North America, and they can even be found in parts of North Africa.

I have a long-tailed weasel in the freezer. It was killed in the late 90’s during squirrel season. It was chasing a rabbit when it was shot, and it was in the transitional phase between its winter and summer pelt.

Update:  I have uploaded photos in a post of my long-tailed weasel that I mention here.

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(NB:  Stoats are called ermine or short-tailed weasels in the United States and Canada.)

From The Independent:

In Britain, stoats are part of the rhythm of nature. They prey on rabbits and rats; they are preyed on by foxes and eagles. In New Zealand, whose only land mammals were two species of bats until Europeans arrived, stoats are the single biggest threat to the unique and increasingly threatened native birdlife.

A world leader in conservation, New Zealand has saved some of its rarest birds from extinction by ridding off-shore islands of predators. Stoats, which can swim, were thought to have a maximum range of 1.5 kilometres (less than a mile). Recently, though, the sleek, furry killers have turned up on an island more than five kilometres from the mainland, raising questions about the safety of offshore sanctuaries.

Many of New Zealand’s birds live and nest on the forest floor. Some, such as kakapo, weka and kiwi, are flightless. When they feel under threat, they freeze, making them easy prey for animals such as rats, cats and ferrets. Stoats – introduced in 1884 to combat a rabbit plague – are particularly formidable predators. They can tackle animals 10 times their body weight; they hunt by day as well as at night; they can travel vast distances, climb trees, and survive in almost any habitat. They are also prolific breeders, and they kill far more than they need to satisfy their hunger.

“When stoats get into a seabird colony or chicken hutch, they kill everything,” says Andrew Veale, an expert on stoat genetics at Auckland University. He cites credible reports of a moorhen being attacked by a stoat and taking off into the air, with the stoat still attached. Dr Veale says: “They are phenomenal killers, with an immense bite strength.”

More than 80 of New Zealand’s offshore islands are pest-free sanctuaries where all mammals have been removed through trapping, shooting, and dropping poison from helicopters. Last year, a stoat was found on Rangitoto Island, more than three kilometres off Auckland. The island had been declared predator-free only a year earlier, following a NZ$3m (£1.6m) eradication programme. By analysing the stoat’s DNA, Dr Veale established that it was from the mainland. This year, three stoats have been trapped on Kapiti island, a wildlife reserve 5.2 kilometres off Wellington. Dr Veale believes a female swam over and gave birth.

The destructive potential of stoats is well established. A single male killed 93 petrels on Motuotau island, in the Bay of Plenty, in four weeks. There have been instances of one or two stoats arriving on islands and wiping out entire populations. Philip Bell, a biosecurity officer with the Department of Conservation (DOC), said that if stoats could swim more than five kilometres, “there would be implications for the majority of islands around New Zealand”. He added: “A couple of stoats can create a breeding colony and wipe everything out. Stoats are arguably the biggest threat to our native bird species.”

They are also expensive. DOC has already spent more than NZ$200,000 trapping the three stoats on Kapiti. It will have to monitor hundreds of traps and tracking tunnels on the island for at least two years, as well as using dogs trained to detect stoats. No one is sure what prompts stoats to swim, although they appear to be in search of food. Dr Veale speculates that they take to the water after spotting land on the horizon. With the right tides, they could then travel considerable distances.

New Zealand’s first offshore wildlife refuge was established in 1891, on Resolution Island, off the South Island’s Fiordland coast. A decade later, stoats reached Resolution and killed off its kakapo population. However, more island sanctuaries followed, and kakapo were among the bird species rescued from extinction. Another bird, the Chatham Islands robin, was down to five individuals; but after being transferred to an island, the population recovered.

The stoats and ferrets (which were crossed with European polecats in order to make them more likely to survive in the wild) were introduced to control rabbits.

European rabbits were introduced so that they could be hunted as a game species, but New Zealand’s ecosystem was essentially predator free. Rabbits evolved with heavy predation pressure, and they are the archetypal r-selection species. Whenever one of these species is put into an environment where the pressures that forced them to evolve this reproduction strategy are absent, they very easily begin to overproduce.

However, the logic of introducing stoats or ferret-polecat crosses to control the rabbits appears to have been sound– until one actually applies it.  Rabbits evolves with mustelids attacking them, and they have ways of avoiding predation.  However, the ground-nesting birds of New Zealand evolved with virtually no ground predators, and they have no ways of avoiding mustelid predation.

Stoats and ferret-polecats are intelligent enough to know which species are more easy to hunt, so they go for the ground nesting birds over the rabbits.

So while they do attack and hunt rabbits, they have proved to be much more injurious to native New Zealand birds than to rabbits.

The only way to deal with stoats and ferret-polecats is to kill them.

It can’t be sugar-coated.

Either we cull the invasive species, or the endemic avian fauna of New Zealand is doomed.

But because these are pretty intelligent Carnivorans that are small enough to hide themselves easily, it might be impossible to kill them all.

And those that will remain will be the most wily little things, which will produce offspring that are even more cunning.

Over time, they could become even harder to control.

But even with that possible issue, these animals must be controlled now before the birds become extinct.

 

 

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A stoat (Mustela erminea) uses playful cavorting to “cast a spell” on the rabbits:

Source.

Stoats have a holarctic range.

In North America, we call them short-tailed weasels. Some subspecies turn white in the winter, and these are widely trapped for their fur.

The fur is sold as ermine.

Stoat is synonymous with short-tailed weasel and ermine.

Stoats are in introduced species in New Zealand, where they wreak havoc upon ground nesting birds.

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This subspecies of long-tailed that lives in California and the Southwest has a mask and looks even more like a tiny ferret than the winter phase of the subspecies we have here.

Source

Olduvai George has a nice depiction of one, in case you wanted a closer look at that mask.

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Source

This is either a long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata)  or a stoat/ermine/short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea).  The ermine has a more northerly distribution than the the long-tailed weasel, but both species do have have some overlap in their ranges.

They are easier to tell apart in the summer coat. Long-tailed weasels have a more yellow belly than the ermine does (and their tails are long and whip-like).

I have a specimen of what I believe to be a long-tailed weasel in my freezer. It was killed in Central West Virginia in late October. Its legs and belly are white, but its dorsal area and head are still dark brown.

It could be a stoat that wandered a bit to the south, but because of its more southerly location, my money is on it being a long-tailed weasel.

I think the animal in the video is a long-tailed weasel, not an ermine/stoat.

Not all populations of ermine/stoat turn white in winter, although I think all North American populations do.  Long-tailed weasels that live in the southern parts of their range don’t turn white.

The long-tails live only in the Americas, and they make it as far south as Bolivia. Somehow, I don’t think the Bolivian weasels turn white.

One thing this animal is not is a ferret.

Update: Here’s a Mustela erminea in its winter coat. I think we have a long-tailed weasel in the video.

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Source

This is either a long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata)  or a stoat/ermine/short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea).  The ermine has a more northerly distribution than the the long-tailed weasel, but both species do have have some overlap in their ranges.

They are easier to tell apart in the summer coat. Long-tailed weasels have a more yellow belly than the ermine does (and their tails are long and whip-like).

I have a specimen of what I believe to be a long-tailed weasel in my freezer. It was killed in Central West Virginia in late October. Its legs and belly are white, but its dorsal area and head are still dark brown.

It could be a stoat that wandered a bit to the south, but because of its more southerly location, my money is on it being a long-tailed weasel.

I think the animal in the video is a long-tailed weasel, not an ermine/stoat.

Not all populations of ermine/stoat turn white in winter, although I think all North American populations do.  Long-tailed weasels that live in the southern parts of their range don’t turn white.

The long-tails live only in the Americas, and they make it as far south as Bolivia. Somehow, I don’t think the Bolivian weasels turn white.

One thing it is not is a ferret.

Update: Here’s a Mustela erminea in its winter coat. I think we have a long-tailed weasel in the video.

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