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Friday, February 24, 2012

Rarely Seen Michigan Animals

What animals are rarely seen, are efficient hunters, and weigh up to 9 ounces?  Any guesses?  The least weasel, short-tailed weasel, and the long-tailed weasel.    And guess what…they all live in Michigan.  In fact, these are only three of the ten members of the Mustelid family that inhabit the state of Michigan.  (Future posts will be written about all other Michigan Mustelds.)

 NPS Photo

Mustelids  (weasels) are characterized by their anal glands.  In other words, they stink.  The odor created by these glands is used for both defense and marking territory.  Some weasels have the ability to delay pregnancies through “delayed implantation”.  This allows for the postponing of births when harsh conditions are present.

Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis)
1-2 ounces
6-8 inches
Short-Tailed Weasel (Mustela erminea)
2-6 ounces
7-13 inches
Long-Tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata)
3-9 ounces
11-22 inches

All three weasels are known for their big appetites.  It is expected for a weasel to kill more animals than it can eat.  This behavior is crucial for their survival.  Weasels have high energy demands and fasting for more than one day is detrimental.  So when winter comes or prey is no longer plentiful, stockpiling food is a survival necessity.     

They are also known for their fierceness.  Although their diet is primarily voles, they are able to take prey such as rabbits, rats and snakes.  The long-tailed weasel has even been known to kill small woodchucks and even baby pigs.  One bite to the base of the skull to reach the brain or the spinal cord allows weasels to kill prey much larger than they are. 

It is sometimes difficult to tell these weasels apart.  The least weasel is of course the smallest of the three but, the short-tailed and long-tailed weasel are a bit more difficult.  Other than the length of their tails, the difference between the short and long-tailed weasels is in their feet.  The short-tailed weasel has white feet all year long.  The long-tailed weasel only has white feet in the winter.  Weasels turn white in the wintertime to camouflage themselves from becoming prey to other predatory species.    This is an adaptation developed by the species. 
 NPS Photo
They may be small and cute but they are fierce and cunning creatures, and vicious when it comes to hunting.        

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