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Weasel

All about weasels

The weasel is a highly active predator found throughout the United Kingdom and often confused with its close relative, the stoat. However, it is significantly smaller than the stoat, being the smallest European carnivore, and it never has a black tip to its tail. It also does not turn white in winter anywhere in Britain.

What to look for

Weasels reach a length of 23cm with a short tail of up to 6.5cm and they weigh up to 170g. The males are much larger than the females. Weasels are very slim and elongated, with a brown back and white chin and belly. Unlike the stoat, the border between the two colours is irregular and wavy.

Did you know?

  • Weasels eat mainly mice, voles and shrews, but will probably kill and eat any other prey that they can master, including young rabbits, small birds and eggs.
  • The weasel’s small head and long, thin body makes it perfectly adapted for hunting its prey in their own burrows. However, this also gives it a relatively high surface area to body weight ratio and thin layer of body fat, causing it to easily lose its body heat. This is why weasels must eat very frequently and so are nearly always hunting fresh prey.
  • The weasel moves across the ground in a series of short jumps and is also a good climber. It frequently stops and stands upright, checking its surroundings.
  • Weasels prepare a nest for breeding which is lined with hay and moss and is often located in an old mouse or vole burrow. The female normally raises one litter of between 3 and 6 kittens a year. The young are weaned after 4 to 5 weeks and become independent at 3-4 months. The young from the initial litter may breed in their first year. This means that they can rapidly respond to population explosions in prey such as voles by an increase in numbers.

Photo gallery

Weasel Notts WT (cpt Amy Lewis) Weasel NottsWT (cpt John Smith) Weasel NottsWT (cpt Darin Smith)

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Weasel Printable Factsheet

Status

Humans have persecuted weasels over the years particularly in areas where pheasants and partridges are reared; gamekeepers and farmers have always regarded weasels as vermin and trapped them in large numbers. In addition, many weasels are killed on the roads.  Depsite this they remain quite common and not under threat as a species in the United Kingdom.

Habitats

Weasels may live in woodlands, hedgerows, dry-stone walls and long grass. Each weasel has its own territory of between five and eight hectares and in a single night the  animal can travel up to 2km in the search for prey. Their range includes several different dens; these are visited at differing intervals, with males and females living in different territories.

Where to see

Weasels are active on woodland and farmland by day and night throughout the year. They are solitary and prefer to hunt under cover.

 

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