Weasel Ways

by Beverly J. Letchworth | Dec 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Long-tailed Weasel in tree
Long-tailed weasel. Photo © Mlharing/iStock.com.

The long-tailed weasel mother purred and nuzzled her six youngsters. They were over four weeks old and growing fast. Their eyes were open now, and they were well-furred, not like the blind, almost hairless babies they were when they were born. Soon they would be ready to learn from their mother how to hunt for themselves.

But now Mother Weasel left them. She scooted away from their nest in an abandoned chipmunk burrow and headed out to hunt in the woodland. Swinging her head from side to side to pick up the scent of prey, she moved so smoothly that she looked as though she flowed over rocks and logs.

Suddenly she stopped beside a tree, then dashed up the trunk toward a bird’s nest. In surprise, the Blue Jay squawked and burst from its nest. Mother Weasel grabbed one of the jay’s eggs in her mouth and sped down the tree, carrying the food back to her young. She took a second egg the same way.

But on her third trip, she caught the smell of a different prey. This would be a bigger meal than a small egg. Being long and flexible, she was able to slip easily inside burrows. This time she dove into a crevice under tree roots and pounced on a mouse.

Because she was quick and agile, with acute sight, hearing, and smell, she hunted many kinds of prey, from chipmunks, shrews, moles, squirrels, and birds to reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects. She wouldn’t turn down a juicy berry or two either. Had the mouse been a rabbit, a much larger animal, she wouldn’t have hesitated to hunt it. She was a fearless, aggressive hunter and often successfully attacked animals much larger than herself.

Being a small lightweight mammal, only twelve inches long and weighing seven ounces, she had her share of many larger predators. Coyotes, foxes, wildcats, lynx, large owls, and snakes hunted her.

On her way back to her nest with the mouse, a fox suddenly burst from the brush in front of her. Alarmed, she hissed, and the glands in her back end released a strong, stinking odor of musk. The fox shied as he smelled the powerful odor. One second of hesitation was all Mother Weasel needed. She slipped under the thick brush like water flowing into a hole, and escaped.

Back at the nest with her young, it was nap time. She wrapped her black-tipped tail around them and settled down to rest. By autumn her youngsters would be on their own just as she would be through the winter. Living in a midwestern woodland, her coat would stay brown. Long-tailed weasels living in the north turn white in the winter, except for the black tip of the tail, to help camouflage during the snowy months.

It wasn’t long before hunger signaled her to leave the nest and hunt again. Her young depended on her. A successful hunt meant their survival.

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