By Randy Liles, Area Biologist
The long-tailed weasel is a slender, long-bodied carnivore that has a broad, slightly flattened head. The tail is relatively long and slender with a black tip. The upper parts of the weasel are brown. The underside is white to deep yellow. The legs are very short when compared to the length of the body. The long-tailed weasel has an extensive range from just north of the U.S.-Canadian border to central and northern South America.
For a long time the long-tailed weasel was believed to be strictly nocturnal (active at night). However, research has shown it to be diurnal (active during daylight) as well. Voles, a primary food item, are diurnal. The long-tailed weasel is thought to be the most wide-spread carnivore in the Western Hemisphere. Two of its favorite prey species are mice and voles. Rabbits, chipmunks, shrews, birds, rats, and chickens are also preyed upon. Since weasels prey on rats and mice, they may help control rodent populations. Weasels are known to be good climbers and often can climb 20 feet or more to prey on a squirrel. They are also excellent swimmers. Weasels have been notorious for killing entire coops of chickens. These killing sprees are probably brought on by the smell of blood. They kill with a few quick bites to the base of the skull.
Very few individuals actually manage for long-tailed weasels. They do derive benefits from various wildlife conservation practices. Soil and water conservation practices also provide additional benefits for weasels. Long-tailed weasels are found in a variety of habitats. Briar and honeysuckle thickets, woodlands, forests, and grown-up fence rows are preferred habitats. They live in dens that are usually found in rock piles, burrows of mice, ground squirrels, chipmunks, and voles. Abandoned buildings and even old junk automobiles may be used for dens. The nesting chambers are usually lined with the fur of prey animals or grass.
In the northern part of its range, the long-tailed weasel will turn white in the winter. This process of changing coats is known as molting and is controlled by the length of daylight. Molting of the fur occurs twice during the year. This happens once in the winter and in the spring. Like all animals, weasels have enemies. Snakes, hawks, owls, foxes, and cats have been known to prey on weasels. Long-tailed weasels have been trapped although their pelts are not of great value.
In Alabama, much is yet to be learned about the long-tailed weasel. It is thought that the long-tailed weasel historically occurred statewide. However, due to declines in preferred habitat (early successional with native grasses and legumes) there may also be a similar decline in the long-tailed weasel population.