In Minnesota, we find not one but three species of weasel: the short tailed, long tailed, and least. All three species normally turn snow white during the winter. The long and short tailed weasel have a black-tipped tail while the least weasel is completely white.

All three are deadly, efficient hunters that prey upon chipmunks, mice and birds. After dispatching their prey, the weasel may lap a victim’s blood prior to actually eating the flesh. As they feed, they usually turn back the skin of their prey, so by the time they have finished, the skin is inside out.

The weasel travels by silent, gliding leaps with the hind feet, landing exactly in the tracks of the front feet. During the winter, the weasel will sometimes travel great distances under the snow in pursuit of mice and moles. I have also come across weasels in trees, probably pursuing a mouse or chipmunk up the tree.

The weasel is found in most types of terrain, hunting along fence lines, across fields, and near rivers and streams. Basically, you can find them wherever there’s a chance of finding food. The weasel can swim and climb well. Their senses of smell and hearing are very acute, but their sight is poor. Whether hunting or not, the weasel is alert, agile and energetic with a natural ability to take advantage of cover. A common trick is to use the runs of moles, rats, and chipmunks either to escape enemies or to hunt prey.

There are many accounts of weasels playing together, twisting and turning like snakes, zigzagging over the ground, rolling over each other, somersaulting on the ground or in mid-air, leaping over logs and stumps, or sitting up on their hind legs and boxing furiously with their forepaws.

Even though weasels are largely nocturnal in their habits, there is a good chance of seeing them during the day.

As I said before, the weasel hunts largely by scent, picking up the trail of its prey and following this scent relentlessly. The weasel is one of the smallest true carnivores, and as such, it rejects little that is flesh. A rabbit, when confronted by a weasel, will cry out in terror, but, because of its terror, it seems to not to be able to move, even while the weasel is some distance away. In the same vein, a hare, which can outsmart a fox or a pack of trained hounds, becomes so terrified that it hardly tries to escape.

When its normal food chain is at a low availability, the weasel will turn to game and poultry, which has led to its persecution by gamekeepers and poultry farmers. The fact that it also destroys vermin is not so commonly stressed. Moles and mice, however, are the principle victims of the weasel.

The accusations of poultry and game killing are undoubtedly justified to some extent, but today many people who have taken the time to try to learn something about the animals we share this earth with have come to realize that the weasel does more good than harm by keeping down the number of small rodents in the countryside. It is estimated that a male weasel kills at least 500 small rodents a year and a female kills at least 300. This, and the fact that there has been a steady decline of widespread game preserves in recent years, is reducing the numbers of weasels killed each year. Human education about the animals world has also contributed to a major change in opinion about this animal.

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