A Weaselly Surprise

When I noticed something bright in my peripheral field of vision and my eyes afterward focused on this sleek creature, I felt slightly disoriented. The animal seemed out of its element, at least in my mind. It was October 2020 and I was birding along a paved path in a well-developed suburban subdivision. A weasel was not what I expected here.

Back at home I confirmed that I had indeed seen a Long-tailed Weasel. A member of the mustelid family (Mustelidae), which also includes badgers, wolverines, and skunks, it is considered the most widespread carnivore in the Western Hemisphere (according to our 1997 National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals). Considering this fact it’s remarkable that I only recall a handful of weasel encounters in my life, all of which happened in natural, undeveloped areas—until this one broke the mold.

This individual was sunning itself in someone’s back yard and it soon became evident that it had tunneled underneath the stone steps, where it disappeared for periods of time. I did not see a water source in the yard but not far from the property was a little pond, which likely proved attractive to this water-loving critter. Long-tailed Weasels (Mustela frenata) used to be considered strictly nocturnal but are now known to be active in daylight as well, because voles, among their favorite prey, are diurnal.

This rather tame-appearing representative of its kind was nearly done with its seasonal wardrobe makeover, having exchanged almost all the handsome yellow and brown summer attire for a white winter coat, except for the face and back, which probably turned white soon thereafter. The dark tip of the tail, on the other hand, remains black always.

 

I had enjoyed one previous weaselly meeting in southern Colorado in April 2016 during which the subject posed long enough for me to take a few photos. The image I have added for comparison shows the warm earth tones of the fur. I wonder if this weasel kept the same coat year-round, as the white camouflage color only makes sense in areas that receive significant amounts of snow.

If you have observed and/or photographed weasels in the wild, I would love to hear about your experiences.

59 thoughts on “A Weaselly Surprise

  1. The weasel is a “now you see me, no you don’t” kind of critter. None of my sightings over the years has lasted more than a second or two, being instead just a rapid, incomprehensible blur of movement. Only on reflection afterwards do I conclude “wow, that was a weasel … probably.” Photographing them has always been out of the question, so your encounter and photos are truly exceptional. I’m very envious 🙂.

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  2. Wow, ein Wiesel! Das ist ja toll. Ich würde vermuten, daß sie meist zu schnell sind, um sie vor die Linse zu kriegen. Was für tolle Momente und so niedlich. Besonders auf dem letzten Foto, wie es da so steht, allerliebst! LG und Happy Easter Almuth

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    • Thank you, Donna. I’m a little surprised that you haven’t seen one. especially during your extended stays in Florida. It seems to me that some of the refuges you have visited would be perfect for them, at least theoretically. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before you will encounter one.

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      • They’re in Florida and I missed them? Oh, I had to just research to see where. 🙂 I found weasels are in north and central Florida so I wouldn’t have seen one. BUT, Minks are in the Everglades and Fakahatchee Strand, where I was. I found Florida’s Fish & Wildlife CC actually has a webpage, asking for the public to report sightings of both weasels and minks for more data collection of these two (and river otters too). 🙂

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      • My old printed field guide shows them in all of Florida, but it’s older and likely not as accurate as online information.
        One problem I have with eBird is that it doesn’t have the option to report other wildlife sightings, such as weasels and minks. I know INaturalist does, but I don’t want to start yet another thing that will make me spend more time online.

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      • Great website, Donna, thank you for sharing. I have been fortunate enough to see both weasels and minks here in the region, but to my knowledge, the Colorado Division of Wildlife doesn’t have a comparable website to document observations.

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      • Not going to believe this, I was just visiting one of the Fakahatchee Strand facebook pages and a mink had recently been sighted. lol The Park said it was a rare sighting, and a cool one. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Cathy. I would love to see martins, but we don’t have them here. I did see my first swallow a few days ago, but it was too far away to ID it properly. Very soon there should be more. 🙂

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  3. Driving into our place in fall a couple of years ago, I saw a flash of white in the stacked rock at the beginning of our driveway. I stopped and a minute later the head popped out–pure white, not the partial brown of you photo subject. It ran in and out of the rocks too fast for full-body pictures but showed enough of itself to confirm that it was a short-tailed weasel. I was thrilled, not only because I’ve never seen one here before (or since), but because we always have too many rodents of various species running around. Also, we don’t have chickens, so no threat to domestic critters. When you ignore the ferocity, I am pretty sure they are the cutest predator out there.

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    • Thanks for sharing your exciting experience, Andrea. Unless I have misidentified them, which is a distinct possibility, I don’t think I have ever seen a short-tailed weasel (or are you trying to tell me in a nice way that I picked the wrong weasel? 🙂

      I agree with your assessment about their cuteness factor, their fierce hunting instincts notwithstanding.

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      • I don’t think you’re wrong at all, Tanja. Evidently, there are both long- and short-tailed weasels in Colorado. Your long-tailed is much bigger. The one I saw was very small, along with the tail being, well, short.

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      • That’s good to know, Andrea. When I researched what kind it might be, long-tailed made more sense, but I wasn’t completely sure. I would love to see the short-tailed cousin for comparison.

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  4. He is so beautiful in his winter robes! I haven’t seen them since Egypt but we had both weasels and stoats in our garden. They liked to skitter in the roof tiles at night. Our cats loved to chase them but they didn’t have a chance…way too fast. My husband calls weasels ‘pencils with legs’. Great shots!

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  5. Lucky you, Tanja. I’ve never seen a weasel, wild or otherwease, and only two minks who were chasing each other and ran between my tripod legs into the pod I was photographing. It’s fun to experience them vicariously through you photographs.

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  6. Like so many others, I’ve never seen one in the wild. Their posture when standing erect reminds me of a Meerkat on alert. They certainly do rate high on the cuteness scale. I didn’t know anything about the Mustelidae, but when I did a quick check, I found there are some members I do see: particularly skunks and otters. One of the interesting ways the weasel has weasled its way into our language is in the phrase ‘weasel words’ — words that are vague, filled with equivocation, and meant to be hard to interpret.

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    • I like your meerkat comparison, Linda, another animal high on the cuteness scale.
      As Steve also pointed out, the language references to weasels are numerous. This suggests that, at some point, people must have had more interactions with them than we do nowadays.

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