Photo Credit: Troy Best
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Mustela frenata
OTHER NAMES: Stoat, ferret.
STATUS: Poorly known. Probably found statewide, but little known about current status. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.
DESCRIPTION: The long-tailed weasel is a long slender bodied, long-tailed, short-legged animal nearly the size of a gray squirrel. It is very similar in appearance to its cousin the mink, although somewhat smaller. It is Alabama’s smallest carnivore and weighs less than 16 ounces. It is typically reddish-brown on its upper body parts, with white throat, chin and belly, and a black-tipped tail.
DISTRIBUTION: The long-tailed weasel is one of the most widespread mustelids in North America. It ranges from southern Canada throughout the United States and into Mexico. Although the long-tailed weasel is found throughout the United States, it is absent in southeast California, most of Arizona, and the coastal regions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
HABITAT: The long-tailed weasel can be found in a variety of habitat types. Forest edge, fencerows, stream banks, brush lands, open areas, and farmlands are all suitable habitats for this little furbearer.
FEEDING HABITS: Although the long-tailed weasel is strictly a carnivore, it is very opportunistic in its selection. It preys primarily on small rodents, such as mice, rats and shrews, but it will also eat chipmunks, birds, eggs, reptiles, and amphibians. To some extent, the size of the prey does not seem to matter. The weasel has been known to attack full-grown rabbits and will occasionally enter a chicken coop and kill poultry. When prey is plentiful, the long-tailed weasel will store its surplus food. Unlike most wild predators, the long-tailed weasel will often kill much more than it can eat. Perhaps this is why it has the reputation of being a “bloodthirsty killer.”
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Breeding of long-tailed weasels generally occurs during the summer months of July and August. As with most mustelids, long-tailed weasels are capable of delayed implantation. Delayed implantation is an adaptive phenomenon which allows the birthing of young during the best habitat conditions and helps to ensure the best conditions for the survival of young after parental care. The young are usually born in late April with litters ranging from three to nine young. The young are completely naked and blind at birth. At three months of age, the young are nearly mature and begin to disperse. Although males generally do not reproduce until their second year, females may begin reproducing during their first year.
Long-tailed weasels usually make their dens in the burrows of other animals such as chipmunks. However, they will use other suitable locations such as rock crevices, stumps and hollow logs for dens. The nest is constructed of tightly packed grasses and usually lined with the fur of its prey.
Even though the long-tailed weasel’s economical importance as a furbearer is minimal, it is very biologically important. The long-tailed weasel is one of nature’s best “mousers.” It is responsible for catching and killing untold numbers of mice and rats, thus making it a very beneficial furbearer.
Sievering, M.E. 1989, Furbearers of Alabama. Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Division of Game and Fish. 78 pp.
Novak, M., Baker, J.A., Obbard, M.E., Malloch, B., 1987. Wild Furbearer Management and Conservation in North America. Ontario Trappers Association. 183-184.
Author: Kevin Pugh, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries