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The Relatives of a Weasel

i mink 2 image by Colin Buckland from Fotolia.com

When you call someone a weasel, you're probably referring to his weasel-like qualities, such as being sneaky, wily and out for "number one." The description is fitting, because weasels and pretty much all members of the weasel family, known as "mustelids," are predatory and sly. There are 65 species, including weasels, in the mustelid family tree, although some, like otters, are counted more than once because there are more than one type.

A Few Weasel Relatives

If you want an idea of the different animals you would see at the weasel family reunion, some that might show up include wolverines, minks, ferrets, badgers, and otters. That's not just the small, playful river otters, but their larger cousins the sea otters and the even larger giant otters, too. In the past skunks were classified as mustelids, but are now considered different enough that they've been moved to their own family and been given their own classifying name: mephitidea. It's a fitting moniker as it's Latin for "foul-odored ones."

Physical Characteristics

Animals in the same family with weasels share essentially the same anatomy, although their physical looks can vary a bit. Most of them have a long body, except for badgers and wolverines, who tend to have shorter, stockier bodies, but they all have short legs, five toes with claws on each of their four feet, and small eyes and small round ears. These mustalid kinfolk also come equipped with powerful scent glands that give off a strong and repulsive odor.

They Come in All Sizes

With over 65 species assigned to the mustelid species, you can bet that there is a wide range of sizes living all over the world, including in North America, Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. Weasels actually start out at the bottom end of the size chart with the type known as the "least weasel," weighing in at just above one ounce. South American giant otters get the honor of being king-sized weasels, tipping the scales at 60 pounds and weighing as much as 90 pounds.

Fearless Hunters

Weasels and their relatives are known for their fearlessness when it comes to hunting and confrontations. They are aggressive and predatory, and like their meat fresh, rarely if ever feeding on an animal that they haven't killed. Although weasels and their next of kin don't mind hunting and feasting on animals smaller than themselves, like birds, frogs, fish and small rodents, they've been known to attack and kill animals much bigger than themselves.