Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin

Long-Tailed Weasel

Mustela frenata

Description

This species have long slender bodies (a known trait of weasels), short legs, a small, narrow head with long whiskers, long bushy tails (50% of their total body length).  The males tend to be larger than females. The fur of the long-tailed weasel has a soft under fur covered by shiny guard hair. Long-tailed weasels are cinnamon brown colored with white under parts. This fur is shed twice a year (once in spring and once in fall). Northern populations are white in the winter to camouflage against snow and brown in the summer.

Habitat

Long-tailed weasels are found in North, Central, and northern South America. They prefer temperate and tropical habitats ranging from crop fields to wooded areas. This species is not typically found in deserts or dense forests. Long-tailed weasels live in many shelters such as hollow logs, rock piles; they even take over the burrows of their prey. Long-tailed weasels are solitary animals and although the home range of a male may extend over multiple female’s home ranges, the home ranges of same sex individuals never overlap and they will aggressively defend their home range.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

Long-tailed weasels hunt by scent and sound.  They make a quick attack by biting the base of the skull of their prey. Feeding mostly on small rodents, this species will also hunt eastern cottontail rabbits, birds and reptiles. The females tend to eat more small rodents than males because the small body of the female can easily climb into the small burrow of a rodent while a larger male is more capable of taking down a larger rabbit. Occasionally in the summer they will consume fruits and berries.

Reproduction

Breeding season for long-tailed weasels occurs in the mid-summer. Implantation is delayed until March. In late April-early May, about 280 days after mating, the female gives birth to about 6 young. After 14 days the fur of the young begins to thicken and the males begin to grow bigger than the female young. At 36 days old, the young are weaned and survive on food brought back by the mother. At about 56 days old, the young are able to kill their own prey. Females reach sexual maturity by their first summer, while the males reach sexual maturity the following spring.

Months and Times of Activity

This species is mainly solitary, except during mating season. Long-tailed weasels can be seen during the day but are most active at night.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

  • The color of fur in the Northern populations is determined by photoperiods, meaning that the change in the length of daylight is the signal to change fur color.
  • They are quick, agile and alert.
  • This species is known to be a noisy animal, especially when disturbed.
  • The long-tailed weasels are good swimmers and good climbers.
  • To read legends and folklore featuring the long-tailed weasel go to: http://wayoftheweasel.livejournal.com/
  • Children’s book featuring a long-tailed weasel: The Animal Alphabet by Ben Towle

References

Newell, T. 2002. "Mustela frenata" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 04, 2014 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Mustela_frenata/