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Posts Tagged ‘stoat’

Audubon’s “tawny weasel” was of no use as a ferret, but the species referred to as the ermine or stoat were excellent rabbit ferrets.

Using ferrets to catch rabbits is an old European tradition. It did have some following in the United States, but now it has been outlawed virtually everywhere.

However, there were at least a few attempts to adapt ferreting to American mustelids.

The following account comes from John James Audubon’s The Quadrupeds of North America, Volume 3 (1854):

We find from our notes, that in the State of New York in the winter of 1808, we kept a Weasel, which we suppose may have been this species [“The Tawny Weasel”], in confinement, together with several young ermines. The latter all became white in winter, but the former underwent no change in colour, remaining brown. On another occasion a specimen of a brown Weasel was brought to us in the month of December. At that season the ermines are invariably white. We cannot after the lapse of so many years say with certainty whether these specimens of Weasels that were brown in winter were those of the smaller, Putorius pusillus, or the present species ; although we believe from our recollection of the size they were the latter. We therefore feel almost warranted in saying that this species docs not change colour in winter.

We were in the habit of substituting our American Weasels for the European ferrets, in driving out the gray rabbit (Lepus sylvaticus) from the holes to which that species usually resorts in the northern States, when pursued by dogs… Whilst the ermines seemed to relish this amusement vastly, the brown Weasel refused to enter the holes, and we concluded that the latter was the least courageous animal (pg. 235-236).

From Audubon’s description of the “tawny weasel” describes it as being much more robust than a European weasel [the least weasel] and that it has a black-tipped tail.  The black-tipped tail and the description of it being distinct from but similar to a stoat or ermine strongly suggests that this “tawny weasel” was what we call a long-tailed weasel. Further, all North American stoats or ermines turn white in the winter. Not all long-tailed weasels do.

The ones in my area actually do, but the ones that Audubon was encountered in the lower part of New York State did not.

I’ve never heard of anyone using anything other than a ferret to ferret, but the use of North American mustelids for this purpose is pretty interesting.

Ferreting with the long-tailed weasels was evidently a failure, but using ermines/stoats to do so was not.

I wonder why stoats/ermines never became as domesticated as ferrets are.

I don’t know how hard they are breed in captivity, but if they were easy to handle, there must be some good reason why they were never domesticated.

In North America, rabbits go to ground only when pressed by an enemy or when the cold weather drives them into holes or pipes.

European rabbits dig extensive warrens, but American cottontails do not.

This could go a long way to explaining why European ferrets were so successful as domestic animals.

We didn’t have the need to make our own ferrets out of our own mustelids– except on a very limited basis.

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From Stuff.co.nz:

The doors whip open and out they waddle, plunging into the rapids to test paddling skills before floating downstream to feed.

It is home time for eight whio, or blue ducks, more than three months after they were removed from their river-edge nests as eggs to be reared in Christchurch.

The nationally endangered species gets a helping hand around New Zealand, with efforts focused on eight “security sites”.

Yesterday was the fourth release of juvenile ducks at one of the West Coast sites – the Styx-Arahura-Taipo valleys near Hokitika – since the whio Operation Nest Egg project began there in 2006.

Intensive stoat trapping started in the area eight years ago to protect dwindling numbers of the rare waterfowl species, which prefers life in swift mountain streams and is endemic to New Zealand, with no close relative worldwide.

By 2004, only three breeding pairs remained in the Styx Valley, but the Solid Energy-sponsored project helped increase that to eight breeding pairs.

In September and October, eggs from two whio nests were removed from beside Doctor Creek, a Hokitika River tributary, helicoptered out of the mountains and driven by car to Christchurch to be incubated and reared at Peacock Springs Wildlife Park in Christchurch.

Curator Anne Richardson reared her demanding brood in enclosures over fast-flowing springs to ensure they developed good skills.

Yesterday, Press photographer Dave Hallett was thrilled to have the privilege of transporting the eight whio back to the West Coast.

“I’ve never driven that carefully in all my life,” he said.

“I was completely chuffed that the Department of Conservation had that much faith in me.”

Hallett, a bird enthusiast, followed the distinctive slate-blue birds from nest to release to document their progress, including capturing the surprising moment when one duckling hatched in Richardson’s hand only minutes after arrival at Peacock Springs.

Two of yesterday’s eight ducks, a pair, were freed near Greymouth, at the Moonlight Valley, to aid the Paparoa Wildlife Trust’s whio project.

The remaining six – three female and three male – were flown to the Styx Valley, a neighbouring valley to their birthplace.

Once common throughout New Zealand, now only about 2000 blue ducks remain, with the numbers of breeding pairs almost evenly split between the North and South islands.

The Conservation Department’s Hokitika biodiversity programme manager, Dave Eastwood, is “quietly optimistic” about the whio’s future, but also has fears.

“Rats and stoats are out of control. Even with trapping, they keep migrating into areas.”

New Zealand’s wildlife evolved without land-based mammalian predators.  New Zealand has native birds of prey, but it never had cats or mongooses or weasels or dogs or even rats running about until relatively recently.

New Zealand’s ground nesting birds, like these blue ducks, never evolved good nest hiding behavior, which makes them quite vulnerable to predators.

European rabbits and hares were introduced to New Zealand as game animals, and because they also did not suffer from any land-based predators, their population exploded.

Stoats were introduced to control the number of rabbits and hares, but that’s kind of like releasing lions into high crime areas to control gangs. Yeah, the lions will control the gangs a bit, but gangs are armed. The lions are much more likely to attack people who have nothing to do with the gangs.

The rabbits and hares in New Zealand descended from ancestors who had long suffered stoat predation and had evolved defenses against them. The stoats do kill some hares and rabbits, but not enough to significantly reduce their numbers.

However, the stoats do a much better job killing these native New Zealand birds, which evolved without any sort of land-based predators. They have virtually no defenses against them.

I don’t know how long these New Zealand conservationists can keep the stoats at bay.  They are going to have to be constantly trapping them in order to keep them under control.

And they aren’t going to trap all of them. Stoats are carnivorans and are quite intelligent animals. Some are craftier than others. These crafty ones will avoid traps, and they will pass on their craftiness to their offspring– both in terms of their genetics and what the mothers teach their young.

Eventually, the only stoats that are going to be in that region are those that are really trap-wise, and then I don’t know what they will do to control them.

It may be a losing battle in the end.

But it is worth the fight.

Because it’s the only option.

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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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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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