Least weasel

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Least weasel
Temporal range: Late Pleistocene–Recent
Mustela nivalis -British Wildlife Centre-4.jpg
Least weasel at the British Wildlife Centre, Surrey, England
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Mustelidae
Genus: Mustela
M. nivalis
Binomial name
Mustela nivalis
Least Weasel area.png
Global range of M. nivalis

The least weasel (Mustela nivalis), is the smallest member of the genus Mustela. It is the smallest member of the family Mustelidae and order Carnivora.[2][3] It is also called the little weasel, common weasel.[4] It is native to Eurasia, North America and North Africa. It has been introduced to New Zealand, Malta, Crete, Bermuda, Madeira Island, the Azores, the Canary Islands, São Tomé, the Falkland Islands, Argentina and Chile. It is a least concern species.

Description[change | change source]

Least weasel at the British Wildlife Centre

The least weasel has a thin, long and very flexible body. It has a small, long, head. The legs and tail are short. The feet have sharp, dark-coloured claws, and the bottom of the feet has lots of hairs.[5] The eyes are small when compared to their head size. It's eyes are large and dark colored. The least weasel moves by jumping. The legs and tail are relatively short. The tail makes up less than half the body length.[6]

Males have an average length of 130 to 260 mm (5 to 10 in) long. Females have an average length of 114 to 204 mm (4.5 to 8.0 in) long. Males weigh 36 to 250 g (1.3 to 8.8 oz). Females weigh 29 to 117 g (1.0 to 4.1 oz).

Territorial and social behaviour[change | change source]

Two least weasels fighting

Male least weasels have territories that includes many female territories. The number of least weasels in each territory depends on the amount of food and reproductive success. The male least weasel expands its territory during spring or when there is less food.[7] It uses faeces and urine to mark it's territory. The least weasel does not dig its own den, but stays in the abandoned burrow of another animal like a mole or rat.[8]

Breeding[change | change source]

The least weasel mates from April to July. The gestation period is 34 to 37 days. In the Northern Hemisphere, the least weasel usually give birth to 6 kits. The least weasel reach sexual maturity in 3 to 4 months.

The female takes care of its kits without help from the male. The kits are 1.5 to 4.5 g (0.05 to 0.16 oz) in weight. Newborn kits are born pink, naked, blind and deaf. They will have a white coat of downy fur at the age of 4 days. The milk teeth comes out at the age of 2 to 3 weeks. The young ones start to eat solid food at that time.

The eyes and ears open at the age of at 3 to 4 weeks. By 8 weeks they learn how to kill the animals that they eat. The young ones leave the family after 9 to 12 weeks. Least weasels can live for 7 or 8 years.[9]

Feeding[change | change source]

Taxidermy exhibit showing a least weasel attacking a European hare, in the Natural History Museum of Genoa

The least weasel mostly eats rodents that look like mouse, including mice, hamsters, gerbils and others. It usually does not attack adult hamsters and rats. Frogs, fish, small birds and bird eggs are almost never eaten. It can attack adult pikas and gerbils. Least weasels sometimes kill prey larger than themselves, such as capercaillie, hazel grouse and hares. In England, the least weasel likes to eat the field vole.[10]

Even though it is small, the least weasel is a great hunter. It is able to kill a rabbit five to 10 times its own weight. Even though they are commonly eaten, the rabbits are usually young ones. Rabbits become a very important source of food during the spring, when there are few small rodents.[3]

Predators[change | change source]

The predators of the least weasel include red foxes, sables, steppe and forest polecat, stoats, eagle owls and buzzards. Owls are very good at catching least weasels. Some of the owls that hunt least weasels include barn owls, barred owls, and great horned owls. Other birds of prey that eat least weasel include broad-winged buzzards and rough-legged buzzards. Some types of snake may eat the least weasel. They include the black rat snake and the copperhead.

Disease and parasites[change | change source]

There are many ectoparasites that infect weasels. Some of them include the louse Trichodectes mustelae and the mites Demodex and Psoregates mustela. It may get fleas from the nests and burrows of its prey. Fleas known to infest weasels include Ctenophthalmus bisoctodentatus Palaeopsylla m., P. s. soricis, Nosopsyllus fasciatus and Dasypsyllus gallinulae.[8] Least weasels are commonly infected with the nematode Skrjabingylus nasicola.[11]

Distribution[change | change source]

Alaskan least weasel (M. n. eskimo)

The least weasel lives in Europe and North Africa, Asia and parts of northern North America. It mostly lives in places where there are no stoats. It has become extinct from New York. It has been introduced in New Zealand, Malta, Crete, the Azore Islands and also São Tomé off West Africa. It is found throughout Europe (but not Ireland). It is also found on many islands, including the Azores, Great Britain, and all major Mediterranean islands. It also lives in Honshu and Hokkaido Islands in Japan and on Kunashir, Iturup, and Sakhalin Islands in Russia.[6][12][13]

It can be found in fields, open woodland, bushy or rocky places, parks and gardens. It can be found at altitudes of up to about 3,000 metres (9,800 ft).[14]

Conservation status[change | change source]

The least weasel is listed as a Least Concern species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It has a very wide large range and a large total population. It is common in Eurasia but less abundant in North America. It is thought to be rare in the southeastern United States.[15]

References[change | change source]

  1. McDonald, R.A., Abramov, A.V., Stubbe, M., Herrero, J., Maran, T., Tikhonov, A., Cavallini, P., Kranz, A., Giannatos, G., Kryštufek, B. & Reid, F. (2019). Mustela nivalis (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T70207409A147993366.en
  2. Van Valkenburgh, Blaire; Wayne, Robert K. (2010). "Carnivores". Current Biology. 20 (21): R915–R919. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2010.09.013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Stoat and weasel guide: how to identify, habitat, diet and best places to spot". Discover Wildlife. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  4. Shorter Oxford English dictionary on historical principles. Stevenson, Angus., Brown, Lesley. (6th ed. ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2007. ISBN 978-0-19-920687-2. OCLC 170973920. |edition= has extra text (help)CS1 maint: others (link)
  5. Fergus, Chuck. Weasels (PDF).
  6. 6.0 6.1 Long, John L. (2003). Introduced Mammals of the World : Their History, Distribution and Influence. Melbourne: CSIRO Pub. ISBN 978-0-643-09015-6. OCLC 476021923.
  7. Erlinge, S. (1974). "Distribution, Territoriality and Numbers of the Weasel Mustela nivalis in Relation to Prey Abundance". Oikos. 25 (3): 308. doi:10.2307/3543948.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Mammals of the British Isles : handbook. Stephen Harris, D. W. Yalden, Mammal Society (4th ed.). Southampton: Mammal Society. 2008. ISBN 978-0-906282-65-6. OCLC 231001892.CS1 maint: others (link)
  9. Koenig, Klaus. Mammals. ISBN 0-00-212080-1. OCLC 705415902.
  10. Tapper, Stephen (1979). "The Effect of Fluctuating Vole Numbers (Microtus agrestis) on a Population of Weasels (Mustela nivalis) on Farmland". The Journal of Animal Ecology. 48 (2): 603. doi:10.2307/4182.
  11. King, Carolyn M. (2009-08-20). "The effects of the nematode parasite Skrjabingylus nasicola on British weasels (Mustela nivalis)". Journal of Zoology. 182 (2): 225–249. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.1977.tb04157.x.
  12. Rodrigues, Mónica; Bos, Arthur R.; Schembri, Patrick J.; de Lima, Ricardo F.; Lymberakis, Petros; Parpal, Lluís; Cento, Michele; Ruette, Sandrine; Ozkurt, Sakir O. (2016-12-10). "Erratum to: Origin and introduction history of the least weasel (Mustela nivalis) on Mediterranean and Atlantic islands inferred from genetic data". Biological Invasions. 19 (1): 423–424. doi:10.1007/s10530-016-1347-3. ISSN 1387-3547.
  13. McDonald, R.A.; Abramov, A.V.; Stubbe, M.; Herrero, J.; Maran, T.; Tikhonov, A.; Cavallini, P.; Kranz, A.; Giannatos, G. (2015-05-02). "Mustela nivalis". doi:10.2305/iucn.uk.2016-1.rlts.t70207409a147993366.en. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. Koenig, Klaus. Mammals. ISBN 0-00-212080-1. OCLC 705415902.
  15. McDonald, R.A., Stubbe, M., Maran, T., Giannatos, G., B. & Reid, F., Abramov, A.V., Herrero, J., Tikhonov, A., Cavallini, P., Kranz, A., (2015-05-02). "Mustela nivalis". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019. doi:10.2305/iucn.uk.2016-1.rlts.t70207409a147993366.en.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)