9 Short-tailed Weasel Facts: This Cute Little Stoat Kill Prey That Is 10 Times Of Its Size

Stoats or the short-tailed weasels are the evolutionary descendants of a bigger creature that existed 5-7 million years ago and survived the glacial age. So what’s special about this species? Let’s have a look at short-tailed weasel facts to get to know them!

Short-tailed weasel
Scientific name: Mustela erminea
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Genus: Mustela

1. What is a stoat animal?

The stoat is also called the short-tailed weasel. It belongs to the Mustelidae family which is often known as the weasel family. Besides weasels, this family also includes other species like otters, badgers, mink, the wolverine, and martens.

The least weasel (Mustela nivalis), the mountain weasel (Mustela altaica), and the long-tailed weasel are close relatives of the short-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata).

The stoat is one of the cutest animals on the planet, you may read more cutest creatures below:

2. They weigh less than a pound

As a member of the weasel family, the stoat looks like a normal weasel. It is cute with a long body, a long neck, rounded ears, short legs, and a short tail. Because of this very tail, the animal is called the short-tailed weasel. This is a significant feature to distinguish them from the long-tailed weasel cousin that owns a much longer tail.

Stoats are not rodents

The short-tailed weasels are quite small, with a size of 33 cm (13 inches) in length, and weigh less than a pound. The length of their tails is about one-third of the body’s length, measuring 65 to 120 mm (2.6 to 4.7 in). There’s a black tip on their tails. The females are 25% smaller than the females and can be much lighter about 2 times. The weasel’s feet have thick hair on the soles.

The long, narrow body of the stoats give them an advantage in pursuing small burrowing prey. However, this also brings them a downside: heat is easily lost through their quite huge surface area. This indicates that the weasel needs to eat a lot of food to receive enough energy to keep them warm.

3. They change color seasonally

Short-tail weasels are also called stoat and ermine. This is due to the way they change their coat color seasonally. These creatures molt 2 times per year, in spring and fall.

In the summer, its coat is brown, from sandy brown to reddish brown, with a black-tipped tail and white feet. And this is the time when they are called stoat. During this phase, the coat is short and rough.

The short-tailed weasel change their color to camouflage

The stoat in winter is called ermine since it turns white in winter. (The term ermine can also be used for other Mustela species). Its winter coat is bulkier, longer, and softer. The short-tailed weasel can hide in the snow thanks to its white coat, making it easier to catch prey and escape predators.

Although the coat color changed, the black tip of the tail remains the same all year. This feature is supposed to be a defensive adaption. A bird of prey (predator) will target its black tip rather than its white body. The bird has a brief period of uncertainty when it recognizes the tail belongs to a bigger animal, buying the weasel more time to flee.

4. They’re easily mistaken for other weasels

The short-tailed weasel is frequently confused with other Mustela species, such as the least weasel and the long-tailed weasel.

– Long-tailed weasel: The long-tailed weasel is bigger than the stoat, and its tail is also longer, reaching up to half the length of its body. Since the long tail and the short tail both have a black tip on their tails, the length of the tail is the most effective way to differentiate them.

A long-tailed weasel

– Least weasel: The least weasel have a shorter tail than the short-tailed weasel, and it doesn’t have the black coloration on its tail. They’re also smaller.

5. The short-tailed weasel habitat

Short-tailed weasels evolved in Eurasia. They arrived in North America roughly 500,000 years ago, across the Bering Land Bridge, which once connected North America to Eurasia. Their distribution range is extensive. They can be found in both the Arctic and subtropical areas of Europe, North America, and Asia.

Stoats are found in a variety of environments. They love woody areas near streams and frequently inhabit forest-edge habitats, ditches, forest-stepped, marshes, river woodlands, wet meadows, semi-desert, or riverbanks with a high concentration of small mammals and hunting space. They will keep away from densely forested areas and deserts.

They live well in snowy settings and can be found in alpine regions. They have been observed living throughout the year at elevations of 610 – 915 m (2,000-3,000 feet) in California, and Sierra Nevada, and are prevalent in tundra ecosystems throughout northern Canada and Alaska.

Compared to female, male occupies a broader range of habitats. Both genders inhabit a smaller range of habitat types in the autumn and winter months than in the spring and summer.

6. Behavior

The short-tailed weasel lives on the ground. However, it can also climb and swim, as well as run on snow. Its long, slender body enables it to conveniently move through underground tunnels. They typically stand upright on their rear legs, head held high to examine their environment.

The creatures are territorial, quite aggressive, and try to avoid human contact. You can see the territorial marking behavior in both sexes. They mark their areas with urine, feces, and scent. The territory of the males is usually wider than the females’ and normally includes many female territories.

A stoat’s home range frequently includes multiple dens. These include rat tunnels, brushwood heaps, hollow logs, fissures in stone walls, and rock piles. The dens are filled with vegetation, prey animal fur and feathers. They may have side rooms for latrines and food storage.

Although the short-tailed weasel is not a highly talkative animal, it still expresses its various states such as submission, dominance, and willingness to mate through different sounds like hisses, whines, squeals, and barks.

Using scent is another way to communicate. They use their scent glands on their face, abdomen, flanks, and anal.

7. The stoat is a great hunter

The weasels can be found at any time of day, but it is most active at night (nocturnal). In most of their waking hours, they look for their next meal. As the members of the weasel family, the short-tail is a carnivore. Despite its tiny size, the short-tailed weasel is a fearsome predator. Its diet mainly includes small mammals like rats, pikas, rabbits, and hares.

When the food is scarce, they will eat other less preferred prey like insects, lizards, eggs, amphibians, earthworms, fish, and birds.

The stoat takes up 50 g (1.8 oz.) of food per day. Leftover is commonly kept in caches for later consumption.

To locate the target prey, they use all their strong senses: sight, hearing, and smell. They will approach them as near as possible to the prey before attacking them. After pouncing, they give the target a deadly bite to the neck, right below the base of the skull, cutting the spinal cord. Before eating, they will suck the blood from the wound. You can see how a stoat kills a rabbit that is 10 times of its size in the video below:

Not only do the weasels hunt to seek food on the ground, but they also hunt beneath the snow in the winter, climb trees to look for bird eggs, and pursue rodents inside their burrows. Thanks to their small size, they can fit into the smallest gaps or holes. This gives them the advantage to chase after chipmunks, moles, shrews, and mice.

Weasels are also opportunistic animals that have been observed eating huge prey caught by other predators such as wolves and bears.

As a secondary consumer, the stoat may be eaten by some larger predators, such as hawks, owls, red foxes, and badgers.

8. They breed with multiple partners

The breeding season of the short-tailed weasels is from April to July, usually in the spring or early summer. Their mating ritual is quite violent. Before copulating, males frequently drag females for about hours by the scruff of their necks.

Males will breed with many females as well as any of the female’s young that may be with her. Regardless of how young the offspring can be. This makes kits from the same litter may have multiple fathers.

Females can live for at least two mating seasons, whereas males usually only live for one. Food availability is critical to their successful reproduction.

Males and females split up after mating, and the female raises her young by herself. To give birth and raise young, the female often uses underground dens which are coated with rodent hair. However, she also makes her den from available cavities, underbrush piles or trees, or hollow logs.

After going through a 4-week gestation period, the female gives birth to a litter of 3 to 18 kits. The young are normally born in either April or May.

Stoats are born deaf, blind, and toothless. Their bodies are completely coated in thin, light-colored fur. The young grow quickly. At roughly 3 weeks, a noticeable mane of dark fur forms around their neck. At five weeks, their eyes are open.

They begin consuming solid food at the age of 4 weeks and exploring outside at the age of 6 – 8 weeks. After 12 weeks, the female kits mature, and it is fairly rare for them to reproduce during their first summer. Male kits, on the other hand, only reach sexual maturity until they are 1 year old.

Short-tailed weasels live from 3 to 5 years in the wild.

9. They are threaten

The short-tailed weasels are not endangered right now. The IUCN classifies them as ‘Least Concern.’ They are typically widespread, have a wide range, and there are no significant concerns that can put them at risk.

However, their population can still be damaged by some factors. They are regularly hunted for their pelts, which are frequently used to trim jackets and other garments. Because of their small size, stoats are frequently captured in traps designed for other small species.

A cute white short-tailed weasel

Furthermore, habitat loss is also a problem. Clear-cut logging threatens their preferred habitat. These places are frequently damaged by wildfires, making the recovery of these places even more difficult.

Changes in prey populations are another significant hazard. Climate change has also driven new species to come into places where weasels live, increasing competition for an already scarce food source.


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