by Stan Tekiela
February 21, 2003
Photo by Stan Tekiela©
For the past year and a half I have been working on a new field guide about mammals.
Itís a long hard process of writing and photographing. But in the end itís always worth it.
Over the years, each book I have written has taken me on a whole new adventure, and the mammal book hasnít been
any different. For this book, I have photographed massive bull Moose in Canada and Wyoming. I have waited in a
camouflaged blind or sat in a deer stand 20 feet in the air for days waiting for a chance to photograph a
White-tailed Deer. Before this book is done, I will have driven thousands of miles and taken thousands of photographs.
Recently I had a chance to photograph a very interesting animalóthe Short-tailed Weasel (Mustela erminea). Also called Ermine,
the Short-tailed Weasel is a tiny bundle of energy wrapped up in a fur coat. It is one of the most wide spread members of
the weasel family. It ranges all across the northland inhabiting open woodlands, farms, prairies, and even wetlands.
Short-tails are only 10-12Ē inches long, including their tail, which accounts for almost half their length. During summer
they are a rich shade of brown with a black tipped tail and white feet. During winter they turn as white as the driven snow
but they retain the black tipped tail.
In my encounter with the Short-tailed Weasel, I was amazed how fast its short legs carried it over just about any obstacle.
Its small size allowed it to fit into the tiniest of cracks or holes, which is an advantage the weasel presses into action
when chasing after mice, moles, shrews and especially chipmunks.
Like all members of the weasel family the short-tail is a ravenous carnivore. They spend most of their waking hours dashing
about in search of its next meal. Their eyes are often bigger than its appetite. Itís not uncommon for a short-tail to chase
down and kill a Cotton-tailed Rabbit, which is several times its own size and weight. One time I watched a Short-tailed
Weasel chase a rabbit for 20 minutes before capturing it.
After pouncing on its prey it delivers a lethal bite to the neck, just at the base of the skull, to sever the spinal cord.
They often lick the blood from the wound before eating.
Underground dens are used mainly for birthing and raising young. After mating, males and females separate and the female
raises a liter of 5-7 youngsters on her own. However it will also use hollow logs and other natural and human made cavities
for its den.
Males are not sexually mature until they are two years old but females are sexually mature at 6 months old (usually during
their first summer). Mating of the Short-tailed Weasels is not for the faint-of-heart. Males often drag the females around
by the scruff of the neck for several hours before copulating. Males will breed with more than one female along with any
of her female offspring that may be accompanying her. No matter how young the offspring may be.
Short-tailed Weasels live 3-5 years. Larger predators such as fox, coyote, bobcat and wolves pray upon them. The name
Ermine is often used to describe them in their winter white coat and they are called Stoat during summer when itís brown.
If you ever get a chance to see one of these wonderful critters it will be worth your time and effort.
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