When Americans use the idiom, "Don't try to weasel out of it," they're referring to weasels' unique ability to slip through even the smallest of openings because of their sinewy bodies. Their cylindrical skeletal structure allows them easily fit through small holes. Avid hunters, but also prized prey of many other animals, weasels have to be cunning to survive the day.
Weasels are small, bad-tempered carnivores found in just about every place on Earth except Australia and the Arctic. They belong to the family Mustelidae, which also includes the mink, wolverine, badger, ferret and otter. There are 10 species of weasel, but only three are found in North America; others are found in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. The weasel's habitat is similar regardless of which side of the planet he's on. In some cases, weasels are an introduced species, making them a non-native invasive species, and considered a pest.
North American Weasels
The three species of weasel living in North America are the long-tailed weasel, the short-tailed weasel and the least weasel, with the largest population belonging to the long-tailed weasel. They live in Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas and are sometimes called bridled weasels for their masked faces. Canada, Alaska, most of the northeast and northwestern states and the Great Lakes are home to the short-tailed weasel. With the exception of the northwestern states, the least weasel is found in these same regions.
Weasels are adaptive little fellows and can get along pretty much anywhere as long as there is sufficient food and water. They make their homes within an average 30-acre radius in the woods, coniferous forests, sand dunes, grasslands and moors. They're listed among a group of animals collectively called urban wildlife; animals who have been pushed out of their native habitats and are now forced to live around humans in order to survive. They are crepuscular and often seen living near farmhouses along the roads in states where they are prevalent. Much to the chagrin of many farmers, weasels are capable of raiding hen houses.
Solitary animals, weasels like to hunt and live alone. Mother Nature had other plans, of course, so eventually they have to find and tolerate another member of the species with whom they can mate. The archetypal den always has a main and secondary opening. It's usually found in a long, deep burrow or a felled hollow tree. The intrepid weasel may even re-use the vacated burrow of a prairie dog, gopher or mole. They line their dens with grasses, leaves and feathers, as well as any other soft materials they come across in their travels.
- A-Z Animals: Weasel
- Department of Animal Sciences and Industry Kansas State University: Weasels
- Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation: Weasel
- The Natural History of Weasels and Stoats : Ecology, Behavior and Management; Carolyn M. King and Roger A. Powell
- British Wildlife Animal Corner: Weasel
- Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries: Long-Tailed Weasel
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Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.