Over the last couple of days, we’ve had a busy time at NY Wildlife Rescue. Here are a few of the newcomers.
A Bit About Weasels
Weasels are members of the Mustelidae family, along with other species such as otters, mink, fishers, and martins. Another member of this family that pet owners may be familiar with is the friendly, funny Ferret. The most common weasels in New York State are the tiny Least Weasel, the Short-tailed Weasel (or Ermine) and the somewhat larger Long-tailed Weasel.
The Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata) is our state’s largest weasel, and is similar in length to a Red Squirrel when fully grown. Like its short-tailed cousin, the Long-tailed Weasel is white in the winter months, and turns a dark to cinnamon brown with lighter undersides in the warm weather. They have a black tip to their tails in both coat colors.
The Short-tailed Weasel or Ermine (Mustela erminea) is very similar in appearance, somewhat smaller than the Long-tailed, and their tails are only about a third as long as their bodies, while the Long-tailed species have a tail that is 50% of the body length or more. Short-tailed Weasels also have white feet, to distinguish them from the Long-tailed.
The Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis) is, as the name indicates, the smallest of our state’s weasels. Like the Long-tailed and Ermine, these little guys turn white in the winter months. Aside from their size, they can be told from the other weasels by the lack of a black tail-tip.
All weasels are carnivores, and are known for sometimes attacking prey that is larger than they are. They are clever little hunters, active both day and night, and can at times be a pest to farmers of poultry. However, they also will eat smaller rodents, such as mice, so the benefits of having weasels around might be worth reinforcing your chicken pens to keep them out, rather than trying to eliminate the weasels.
An interesting document comparing the three species of New York weasel can be found on the Cornell University website.