Long-Tailed Weasel: Feared Predator of the Lesser World

By Dave Hanks

What has one of the most powerful bites for its size in the predator world? What has a small head and tube-like body that can go down most burrows? What predator is a greatly feared hunter, in the rodent world in which it hunts? What animal must kill around 500 rodents a year to satisfy its upkeep? It’s the Long-Tailed Weasel.

Voles (commonly known as field mice) are its “ice cream species” (that is the food an animal prefers above all else). However, larger prey will be taken when voles are not available. They will eat the head and thorax first and any leftovers are stored in the burrow. Weasels do not hibernate and so they will kill more than they can consume. This is added to their larder for times when prey is scarce.

This weasel is brown above and yellowish below and in northern climes turns white in winter, except for its tail tip which remains black. Males are twice as heavy as females. Its cousin, the Short-Tailed Weasel (or Ermine) has a white belly and is slightly smaller. Weasels are Mustelids (like skunks) and have scent glands that produce a strong odor for marking territory, defense, and most often used during the mating season. They also have well defined whiskers, which are quite sensitive and useful for navigation in darkness or in secluded places. They can swim or climb trees when necessary.

The Long-Tailed Weasel is the most wide-spread carnivore in the western hemisphere. The habitats they frequent always have water close at hand. We have experienced them in Waterton Provincial Park in Alberta and at Lake Cleveland – where we often see them “slithering’ out of the rocks and then quickly disappearing.

This small, elongated predator is retiring, but can be very aggressive if confronted.

(Young weasel at the water)