Short Tailed Weasel

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Short Tailed Weasel, Vancouver Island, BC
Short Tailed Weasel, Vancouver Island, BC

The short-tailed weasel, ermine, or stoat resides across Canada, including the high Arctic islands, & the BC coast, and can be found at elevations of 2,500 meters.

This carnivore’s small face is only as wide as its long, thick neck. Its lengthy, slender body, including its tail, averages only 270 mm for males (the tail measuring 75 mm!). Their average weight is 80 g. Females are much smaller, weighing in at only 55 g.

In summer, the back and sides, except for the black-tipped tail, are covered in rich, chocolate-brown guard hairs which hide the short, fine grayish-white underfur. The underside and feet are off-white in color. Beginning in late October, at the onset of winter, all the fur is replaced by a longer, denser, white coat, except for the black tail tip.

This color transition takes place over a period of 3 – 5 weeks. When the snow is on the ground, this white coat makes the animal almost invisible. Not all short-tailed weasels turn white in winter. Those in the southern part of their range, where snow is uncommon, such as on Vancouver Island, maintain a brown hide year-round. Over time, with global warming, they may all take on this colorization pattern.

This little animal’s diet consists of mice, shrews, birds, squirrels, fish, & miscellaneous foods such as insects & earthworms. Primarily terrestrial, they can readily climb trees, pursuing squirrels or searching for nesting birds. However, they spend most of their time on the ground, where their serpentine-like bodies and short legs allow them to hunt in extremely tight places.

The young are born in late April or early May, in a cozy den. Possessing 10 nursing teats, mothers can readily feed their litters, which usually consist of 4 – 9 young. The babies are covered in a fine, white fur, and their eyes open at 5 weeks. The entire family soon begins to travel short distances. At 7 weeks, the young are as big as their mother.

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