The weasel is a small wild animal similar to a stoat or a ferret and can be found all over Europe, Asia, some parts of North and South America and also in North Africa. Weasels were introduced into New Zealand to control the rodent population there, but they have also reduced the numbers of some native birds in New Zealand.
Adult weasels have an elongated body of about 12 to 18 inches long with a small head featuring black eyes and round ears. They have short legs and are covered with a dense coat of brown fur. Some weasels have a creamy yellow patch of fur under the belly. Weasels have the ability to change their colour seasonally in some habitats and in winter some weasels can turn completely white as a camouflage against predators in the snow. Weasels have scent glands near the anus, which puts out a strong pungent smell, used for marking their territory and as a defence against predators.
Classification and Species
Weasels are from the family Mustela, and there are different species of weasel from various parts of the world. Species include the mountain weasel, the tropical weasel, the Japanese weasel, the Columbian weasel and the short and long-tailed weasel. There is also the Indonesian mountain weasel, the Siberian weasel, the black striped weasel, the Egyptian weasel and the Malayan weasel.
Hunting and Feeding Habits
Weasels are carnivorous, meaning they eat meat and usually prey on young rabbits, rats, mice, frogs and birds. They are excellent hunters and kill with an efficient bite to the neck. Weasels consume one third of their own body weight in food every 24 hours. Weasels like to hunt at night when they are most active, but they will also catch prey during the day. Their shape allows them to squeeze into narrow burrows in the ground to find food, and they can also climb trees to reach birds' nests and their young.
Life Cycle of the Weasel
When weasels breed they often take over the burrows of other animals, lining them with the fur from their prey. They produce litters of up to six young at a time which are called weasel kittens. The kittens are born without fur, blind and deaf, but develop quickly and are usually weaned after the first month. Young weasels start hunting in packs at about eight weeks of age with the mother, and by the time they are 3 months old, they leave the family pack and go off to fend for themselves. The average lifespan for a weasel is about two years, as they often fall prey to predators such as foxes, owls and cats.