Long-Tailed Weasel

Long-Tailed Weasel
*A small female’s track may resemble a large male Short-Tailed Weasel track.
Track Length: 1.1 – 1.8 inches (2.8 – 4.6 cm)
Track Width: 0.9 – 1.0 inch (2.0 – 2.5 cm)
Straddle: 1.8 – 2.8 in (4.6 – 7.1cm)
Stride: 9.5 – 43 inches (24 – 110 cm)
Length with tail: 30 – 56 cm
Head and body: Male = 23 – 29cm, Female = 18 – 23 cm
Tail length: Male = 11– 17cm, Female = 7–13cm
Weight: Male = 132 –284g, Female = 85 –115g

Long-Tailed Weasel Under Stove (Spruceline Farm, February 2015)

Long-Tailed Weasel Photo by A. Schletz (Spruceline Farm, February 2015)

There’s a weasel under the stove!

This long-tailed weasel was a temporary visitor at the farm in February.  Weasels have been on my radar for a while and I have been investing much energy into learning more about them by following their tracks and by researching their habits.  This story makes me smile every time I tell it.  I arrived home after work and learned that a mysterious “white squirrel” had been frequenting the kitchen.  Various family members were perplexed by sightings of a ghost-like squirrel appearing from underneath the stove.  The stove had been pulled out to determine where this strange animal was coming from.  The kitchen was quiet after supper and remained so until the next morning.  I went to sleep wondering if an albino squirrel could have been the culprit.  At 6:30am I awoke to the sounds of cookie trays banging in the sink.  It was an unusual time to wash dishes.  I ventured downstairs to check it out.  To my surprise, a white weasel was standing on some cookie trays in the sink, licking the oil from the surface.  The trays had been used the day before to cook peanut butter cookies.

Weasel-Licked Cookie Tray (February 2015)

Weasel-Licked Cookie Tray (February 2015)

Each time the weasel licked the surface, the trays would bang together.  He/She paused to look at me, then darted across the counter and underneath the stove.  A few seconds later, the weasel scampered out from underneath the stove to get a better look at me from underneath the kitchen table.  This happened a couple of times and I was able to observe the weasel’s long, black-tipped tail.  I went upstairs to get my camera and I was able to take a photo of the little one before he/she disappeared underneath the stove for good.

Long-Tailed Weasel (February, 2015)

Long-Tailed Weasel (February, 2015)

I investigated the counter top near the sink and I discovered that the weasel had gotten into the peanut butter cookie container.  Each peanut butter cookie had been bitten into.  The weasel had effectively “surplus-killed” all of the peanut butter cookies.

Surplus-Killed Peanut Butter Cookies (Spruceline Farm, February 2015)

Surplus-Killed Peanut Butter Cookies (Spruceline Farm, February 2015)

Naturally this was a great complement to the cook, however, we did not get to enjoy the delicious, partially eaten cookies.  I learned that the “white squirrel” had been seen the day before, trying to remove the lid from the cookie container … a tricky little weasel.  In our house, the reader should know that we have had a minor war against chipmunks and red squirrels living in the exterior wall.  We wonder if this long-tailed weasel heard our plea to the universe and decided to eat the resident chipmunk and/or red squirrels living in the wall behind the stove.  It seems that the weasel moved on after a few days and the red squirrels also disappeared for a while.  Grey squirrels have since appeared at the outdoor feeder during the red squirrels’ absence.  Depending on how things go squirrel-wise, we made need to call the weasel back again by making a batch of delicious, weasel-luring peanut butter cookies.

Long-Tailed Weasel Prey

Weasel eating a chipmunk (Guelph Lake Nature Centre, June 2011)

In 2011, I was with the “Earth Club”at the Guelph Lake Nature Centre. This group was made up of mostly Grade 2 students that had worked really hard to make their school, J.D. Hogarth in Fergus a greener place. This June trip was a celebration of their successes. We saw some amazing things at the nature centre that day, such as a “Click” beetle – a beetle that is long and silver with black circles on its thorax. The interesting thing about this beetle is that when it is on its back, it rights itself by making a loud “Click” sound. The children were fascinated by this. However, the most amazing scene was still to come…

We had just come around the corner from the bird feeder when one of the children and her mom noticed some rustling in the grasses and sounds of alarm. I peeked over the cedar fence rail and there we saw a weasel attacking a chipmunk. The weasel used its long body like a snake to wrap itself around the chipmunk. The chipmunk was a formidable meal – larger in girth than the weasel but the snake-like predator was able to capture its prey. I had seen what I think is this same weasel in the winter of that year – he/she peeked out of a red squirrel hole in its ermine snow-white winter colouring, waiting for a red squirrel to come. I remember looking at its winter coat and thinking how beautiful it was and also understanding its somewhat scary effectiveness as a predator. It moved on that year after eating several chipmunks and red squirrels. The bird feeder was a bit quieter that winter.

Long-Tailed Weasel Scat

Long-Tailed Weasel Scat (Guelph Lake, October, 2014)

Long-Tailed Weasel Scat (Photo by Ann Schletz, Guelph Lake, October, 2014)

This pile of rope-like weasel scat was discovered under a plywood “snake board” in Kiera’s Forest at the Guelph Lake Nature Centre in October.  The snake boards are frequented by meadow voles and northern short-tailed shrews.  The previous occupants of this snake board seemed to have been replaced by a hairy pile of rope-like scat beside a weasel-sized hole.

Long-tailed weasel
Mustela frenata

Who knew?
Mustela means “one who carries off mice”
Frenata means “bridled” referring to varied facial markings in weasels that live in the Southwest part of their range. Long-tailed weasels can reverse their hind feet 180 degrees so that they can climb down trees head first. They often rest at the entrance of their burrow with only their head showing. Long-tailed weasels frequently swim streams and along the edges of ponds to hunt ducks and other animals. They prefer open, grassy areas near water. Their numbers have been declining in most of its range with the conversion of native grassland to farmland. The Long-Tailed Weasel has a greenish-coloured eyeshine.

Identification
The tail of a Long-Tailed Weasel measures more than half of their head and body length whereas the tail of a Short-Tailed Weasel measures less than half of their head and body length. Long-tailed weasels have orange-coloured fur on their under parts and they have cinnamon-coloured fur on their upper parts. They have brown feet in the summer. Long-Tailed Weasels turn white in winter except for just the tip of their tail. The black-tip of the tail may extend two or more centimetres.

Home Range
The average home range of a Long-tailed Weasel is 30-35 acres (12-14 ha). Long-tailed weasels make circuits or rounds of their home range every 7-12 days.

Breeding Information
Long-tailed weasels breed between June and August. They exhibit delayed implantation and bear 4-5 young in April or May of the next year.

Diet
Long-Tailed weasels are considered “general predators”. They eat an estimated 1300 mice each year. They also prey on muskrats, red squirrels, snowshoe hares and other mammals that are rabbit-sized or smaller. They eat more young rabbits than the other weasel species. Long-tailed weasels also prey on ruffed grouse and ducks.

Trail Pattern
Long-Tailed Weasels leap, bound, walk and circle throughout its range. They have also been observed galloping with their back arched and their tail held up. Long-Tailed Weasel bounding patterns are often inconsistent with irregular strides that are sometimes short and sometimes long.

Please visit my “All about Weasels” page for more information: https://natureguelphtracking.wordpress.com/mammals/weasels-otters-and-relatives/all-about-weasels/

References:
Alexis Burnett, Earth Tracks Apprenticeship Program
Rezendes, P. 1999, Tracking and the Art of Seeing, HarperCollins Publishers, New York.Elbroch, M. & Rinehart K. 2011, Behavior of North American Mammals, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, NY.
Reid, F. A., 2006, Mammals of North America, Houghton Mifflin Company, NY.
Eder, T., 2002, Mammals of Ontario, Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, AB.
Sheldon, I. Animal Tracks of Ontario, Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, AB.

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