Published on February 10, 2013 by Amy
One of the smallest members of the weasel family, Mustelidae (which includes otter, mink, skunks, fisher, marten, wolverine, and badger), the Long-tailed Weasel is widespread, secretive, and for its size, one our most powerful predators.
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The range of the long-tail weasel includes most of North America, extending from just north of the United States-Canadian border to the south. The range continues throughout Central America to northern South America.
Long-tail weasels have a long slender body that resembles the body of a skinny rat. On the average, males are larger than females. These weasels have long, bushy tails that are about 50% of the total body length. Long-tailed weasels have a small, narrow head with long whiskers. They also have short legs. The fur of the long-tailed weasel is composed of short, soft underfur covered by shiny guard hair. They are cinnamon brown in color with white under parts that have a yellow tinge. Twice a year these weasels shed there fur, once in the spring and again in the fall. The shedding of weasels is controlled by photoperiod. The coat of animals in northern populations is white in the winter and brown in the summer, while those in southern populations are brown year round.
Although largely terrestrial, these weasels are adept at climbing trees. They are strong swimmers and do not hesitate to cross swift streams. On the ground they frequent areas occupied by small rodents and often live in the burrows of ground squirrels and pocket gophers or in rotten logs, hollow stumps, and under tree roots. Their nest is made of grass and leaves and is lined with rodent and rabbit fur. They may have more than one home. Weasels are active both in the daytime and at night, but more so after dark. They are active year round and show no tendency to “hole up” or hibernate during winter.
They are apparently unafraid of man and have a strong sense of curiosity. The Inuit in particular look upon this small hunter with great respect, and the capture of one is considered a good omen.
The main prey for the long-tailed weasel is small rodents. Females, with smaller bodies, have better luck getting the small rodents because their bodies can fit inside the small rodent burrows. Males pursue larger animals, for example the eastern cottontail. While mammals are the food of choice, the weasels eat a wide range of food, from birds to reptiles, and in the summer their diet includes fruits and berries.
The long-tailed weasel mates in the summer but the eggs don’t begin to develop until about 27 days before the babies are born. The female gives birth in the spring. Most litters have between 4-8 young. The babies are born blind with a light covering of fur. Their eyes open and they are weaned when they are about 36 days old. The female brings them food when they are weaned and later takes them hunting. The babies leave their mother when they are between seven and eight weeks old.