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Taxonomy and evolution of weasels
The weasel is a small carnivorous mammal found on every continent except Australia and its surrounding islands, and in the harsher polar regions.
There are many weasel animal species that vary slightly in size, color, and behavior depending on where in the world they live.
The common weasel (also known as the European weasel and the smallest weasel) has the widest distribution, covering most of the northern hemisphere. These tiny but fierce carnivores are the smallest carnivorous mammals in the world, measuring no more than 6 inches from nose to tip of tail.
Weasels belong to the mustelidae family of carnivorous animals and are most closely related to similar species such as ermines, which are larger and have a black tip on the end of their brown tail.
Although weasels are fairly common animals throughout most of their natural range, populations in certain areas have been affected by habitat loss and they are often considered pests by farmers.
To know if a weasel is a rodent, read here.
anatomy and appearance
Weasels have evolved to hunt small animals like other carnivores because their elongated bodies are perfect for following mice into their burrows.
©Bildagentur Zonar GmbH/Shutterstock.com
Weasels are animals with small, narrow heads, not much thicker than their necks, and their short legs and flexible spine mean they can move around small, confined spaces with ease. The weasel has a pointed nose and a triangular head, small round ears and black eyes.
They are dark or light brown on the head, back, legs and tail with white undersides and molt twice a year from darker winter coats to lighter paler coats in April and then from summer coats Molt again to winter coat in August or September.
Not only does this ensure that weasels are as warm as possible by November, but in farther north, individuals often change color from brown to white so they can be camouflaged in the snow.
Different Types of Weasels
- least weasel
- European mink
- black-footed ferret
- siberian weasel
- long tailed weasel
- japanese weasel
- Smelly Cat-Ferret Hybrid
- Skunk-Mink Hybrid
- Prairie mink
- colombian weasel
- egyptian weasel
- amazon weasel
- Striped Weasel
- malayan weasel
- Indonesian Mountain Weasel
Distribution and Habitat
©Agami Photo Agency/Shutterstock.com website
Weasels are animals native to a variety of habitats, such as woodlands, coniferous forests, and grassy plains in North America, Europe, Asia, and northern Africa.
Like their big cousin the ferret, weasels have also been introduced to other countries (primarily as a form of pest control) such as New Zealand and some other islands.
However, like many small carnivores introduced to these isolated places, weasels have had a profound effect on native wildlife that have evolved in the same way for millions of years without the influence of small terrestrial animals. Predator threat.
Weasels are opportunistic predators that can also be found in more urban areas, especially near farms where food supplies are diverse and attractive. Despite their adaptability, weasels are threatened by habitat loss in parts of their natural range.
Behavior and Lifestyle
© Steve Hillebrand – Public domain of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Weasels are solitary animals that spend a lot of time, day and night, on the ground looking for small mammals.
Weasels are territorial animals, and the size of their range they patrol depends on habitat and food availability, and while males and females are known to have overlapping ranges, the two tend to avoid each other except when mating.
Within their territory, weasels have been known to nest in crevices, tree roots, and abandoned burrows lined with grass and fur where weasels can safely rest.
Weasels are very strong and powerful for their size and are able to catch and kill animals much larger than themselves before bringing them back to their burrows. To ensure they get the best view of their surroundings, weasels have been known to sit up on their hind legs, exposing their white rump.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
The only time weasels tolerate each other is when males and females meet to mate. After a gestation period of about five weeks, a female weasel will give birth to a litter of to seven kittens in her burrow.
Weasels are also able to hunt small prey and will leave their mothers over the next few weeks to establish their own territories.
While female weasels generally live about three years, they do not breed successfully until their second and third years. However, males rarely live past their first birthday, as they tend to wander around in search of a mate, meaning they tend to be more vulnerable to numerous predators.
diet and prey
The weasel is a skilled and ferocious hunter, able to actually enter the burrow of its prey, something most predators cannot.
By tracking small mammals using their tunnels through bushes or even snow, the weasel is able to follow its victim back to its burrow and grab it inside. Rodents such as mice and voles, as well as lemmings further north, make up the bulk of a weasel's diet, along with the occasional bird.
They are also known to eat eggs and are capable of killing animals larger than them, such as ducks and rabbits. While weasels might be the perfect size for getting into small burrows, their elongated bodies cover a relatively large surface area, so they lose a lot of body heat.
To ensure they have enough energy, weasels must eat about a third of their body weight each day to survive, making them such prolific hunters.
© Ghost Bear/Shutterstock.com
Predators and Threats
Despite their swift and nimble nature, weasels' small size means they are preyed upon by many different predators in their natural range. Birds of prey such as owls, hawks and eagles are able to spot them from great heights and are the most common predators of weasels, along with foxes and snakes.
In areas close to human settlements, weasels are also preyed upon by domestic cats and dogs. However, their opportunistic nature also means they are considered pests by farmers and are often persecuted for stealing livestock, mainly poultry and eggs. In some parts of the world, weasels are threatened by habitat loss, and the lack of prey can also have devastating effects on local populations.
Interesting Facts and Features
The weasel is a carnivorous animal with razor-sharp canine teeth for biting and tearing flesh. Although small, their teeth are so sharp that they are capable of killing animals more than twice their size. Weasels have five toes on each paw, with small, non-retractable claws on the tips of the toes.
While they are primarily used to grab prey, their claws also help weasels burrow underground with incredible speed. Although males and females have similar coat colors and markings, males are actually much larger than females, being a quarter longer and almost twice as heavy as females.
relationship with humans
The ferocious and voracious nature of weasels has given them notoriety among farmers, especially those who trap and kill them to prevent further loss of livestock.
However, due to their versatile and dominant nature as a form of natural pest control, they have been introduced into countries where they cannot be found naturally. Like many native British species, the weasel is a frequent character in books and featured in children's songs.
Protect the status quo and life today
Today, the weasel is listed by the IUCN as an animal of least concern for extinction in its natural environment in the near future.
Although they are thought to be widespread but rare in North America, they are common throughout Europe and Asia, and have been introduced to other countries in steady populations. Yet some isolated populations are becoming increasingly vulnerable.
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about the author
My name is Rebecca and I have been a professional freelancer for nearly ten years. I write SEO content and graphic design. When I'm not working, I'm obsessed with cats and pet mice.
Weasel FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are weasels herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?
Weasels are carnivores, which means they eat other animals.
To which kingdom does the weasel belong?
Weasels belong to the animal kingdom.
What type of weasel is it?
Weasels belong to the class Mammalia.
What phylum do weasels belong to?
Weasels belong to the phylum Chordate.
What family do weasels belong to?
Weasels belong to the weasel family.
What order do weasels belong to?
Weasels belong to the order Carnivora.
What type of mulch do weasels have?
Weasels are covered with fur.
What genus does the weasel belong to?
Weasels belong to the genus Weasel.
Where do weasels live?
Weasels live in the northern hemisphere.
What type of habitat do weasels live in?
Weasels live in forests and open woodlands.
Who are the weasel's natural enemies?
Predators of weasels include hawks, foxes and snakes.
How many children does the weasel have?
The average number of babies a weasel has is 5.
What are some interesting facts about weasels?
Weasels are the smallest carnivorous mammals in the world!
What is the scientific name of the weasel?
The scientific name of the weasel is Mustela nivalis.
What is the lifespan of a weasel?
Weasels can live from 1 to 3 years.
What is the name of the little weasel?
Small weasels are called kittens.
How many species of weasels are there?
There are 10 species of weasels.
What is the biggest threat to weasels?
The greatest threat to weasels is lack of prey.
What is another name for weasel?
The weasel is also known as the common weasel, European weasel, or least weasel.
How fast are weasels?
Weasels can travel at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.
What's the Difference Between a Mink and a Weasel?
Mink differ from weasels in their preferred habitat, diet and appearance. Read all about their differences here!
What is the Difference Between Ferret and Weasel?
Weasels differ from ferrets in size, dietary preferences and breeding cycle. Read all about their differences here!
What is the Difference Between Weasel and Mongoose?
One is a member of the "dog-like" carnivore canis, while the other is a member of the felidae or "feline" carnivore. But that's not all – read all about their differences here!
What is the difference between a weasel and a marten?
The biggest difference between mink and weasel is their size and morphology.
What's the Difference Between a Pine Marten and a Weasel?
Differences between pine martens and weasels include size, appearance, diet, distribution, reproductive cycle, and lifespan.
how do weasels use…
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- David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animals, The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife
- Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) Encyclopedia of World Animals
- David Burney, Kingfisher (2011) The Animal Encyclopedia of Kingfishers
- Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) Atlas of Threatened Species
- David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia
- Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Animal Encyclopedia
- David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) Encyclopedia of Mammals
- Weasel information, available here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/14021/0