| The least weasel is one of the smallest
carnivores. Despite its small size, it fiercely attacks and kills animals
much larger than itself. The weasel is small enough to follow its favorite
prey – mice – into their underground burrows. It kills them with a sharp
bite to the back of the neck and uses their burrows for temporary shelter.
Habits: Least weasels can be found wherever mice and other rodents are plentiful. They live in a variety of habitats including cultivated land, woodland, and mountains. Weasels live and hunt within a defined territory. The size of the territory depends on the type of habitat and the food supply. A male’s territory may cover up to 10 acres. A female has a much smaller territory that may overlap with those of other females. Individual territories are marked with the same strong smelling secretions from the anal scent glands that are released during the breeding season. The female remains in her territory throughout the year, but during the spring mating season, males may travel long distances outside their normal range to mate.
Food and Hunting: The least weasel’s preferred food is mice. Where mice thrive, there is likely to be a large population of weasels. Weasels do not breed when the fluctuating mice populations are low. Squirrels, rats, and rabbits are also common prey. A weasel often kills many more small animals than it can eat at one time. Weasels are good swimmers and hunt water mice. They also climb trees and search through bushes to find birds’ nests from which they eat the eggs and the young. They hunt mainly at night and locate prey with their sense of smell. They hunt primarily among bushes, stone walls, and open fields. The weasel attacks and eats animals much larger than itself, such as rabbits.
Breeding: the only time males and females come together is in the spring to mate. The litter, born five weeks later, ranges in number from three to eight young. The young are weaned at four to five weeks, but the mother continues to hunt and provide for them until they are two months old. The family group breaks up one to three weeks later. A young weasel is fully independent by the time it reaches 12 weeks.
Naturewatch: Although weasels are not particularly frightened by humans, you will have a better chance of spotting one if you wear dark clothing that blends in with the surroundings. Keep as quiet and still as possible, and position yourself downwind of the weasel so that it will not smell you. Weasels can be seen among hedges and in long grass, especially in places where there are many mice and other rodents. You may also see weasels standing on their hind legs to investigate the surroundings. If a weasel drops its prey and runs after it spots you, wait a few minutes until it returns to retrieve its food.
Related Species: Closely related to the
skunk and the otter.
Features of the Least Weasel:
Did You Know:
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