Posts Tagged ‘weasel’

One can see the black tipped tail on this side.

It was snowing when I took this photos this morning. Those white flakes are actual snow flakes.

This animal is a long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata), which is native from southern Canada to Bolivia. It is larger than the ermine or stoat (Mustela erminea), which also turns white in winter in North America, and much larger than the least weasel (Mustela nivalis). In West Virginia, we have only least and long-tailed weasels, but other parts of North America have all three species. Least weasels and stoats are found throughout Eurasia, but the long-tailed weasel is found only in the Americas.

Only northern North American populations of long-tailed weasel turn white in winter.

This particular specimen was killed by my grandfather, who passed away in this past August. He was squirrel hunting in late October.  While he was stalking a gray squirrel den tree, he happened to catch sight of a cottontail rabbit running hard and fast. The rabbit ran past him and dove into a copse of heavy brush.  A few minutes later, a white thing started moving along. It was tracking the rabbit’s trail.

My grandpa had no idea what he was looking at, so he did what just about anyone from West Virginia would do if he came across an animal in the woods that he couldn’t identify.

He waited until the white thing crossed a long that the rabbit jumped over. As soon as it raised its head over the log, he blasted it with his shotgun.

He brought it home for me to identify, but I was confused as to what it really was. I didn’t know that long-tailed weasels would turn white in the winter in this part of the country.

The fur on the back is still chocolate brown.

The initial plan was to have it sent to a taxidermist, but no one got around to it.

It’s been the freezer weasel for all these years.

A close up of the head. Dollar bill for scale.

So this is the famed freezer weasel I’ve written about.

It’s taken me this long to put up on the blog, but here it is.

The snow flakes have an added effect, don’t they?

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Long-tailed weasels in the Southwest and California have masks. The ones around here do not.

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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:


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 mustelid is a Siberian weasel (Mustela sibirica). Its range includes a huge chunk of Eurasia, and it is called the Siberian weasel because Westerners knew the species from Russian specimens. However, its vast range goes from European Russia all the way to Taiwan.

Its fur is marketed as “kolinsky sable,” and if you buy a brush that is said to come from a kolinsky sable, you are actually purchasing a brush tipped in the winter fur of this animal. In Russian, the animal’s name is “kolonok,” but it is easier for us to say Siberian weasel, even if its range is much more extensive than Siberia.

Although it looks very similar to the steppe polecat, it is not the same thing.  The two species share a range, but the steppe polecat is darker. The Siberian weasel is always this apricot color.

It’s a very attractive color for a weasel, and it sort of reminds me of some races of the long-tailed weasel. In the Southwestern US, the long-tailed weasels are masked. In my area, the local variant of the long-tailed weasel is unmasked, and it turns white in the winter.

When I saw a video of the Siberian weasel, I was much more reminded of the long-tailed weasel than any species of ferret or polecat. Here’s a playful Siberian weasel versus a pet ferret:


These animals are widely bred on fur farms, so my guess is that they are probably not far from being available on the pet market. I doubt that they are as domesticated as ferrets are.

However, the movement is so similar to the long-tailed weasel that I can’t help but be intrigued by this species.


Of course, I am a bit biased here, for my the weasel family has always fascinated me. They are as intelligent as dogs and cats, yet most of them are quite tiny in comparison.

Indeed, they have so fascinated me that I have the body of a long-tailed weasel in my freezer. It was shot in late October– just when its fur was turning from brown to white. I wanted to have it taxidermied, but I never got around to it.


The Chinese have the coolest name for the Siberian weasel.

It is huang shu lang, which means “yellow rat wolf.”

What a name!

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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.


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

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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.


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

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