Stoat or Weasel?

What’s the difference between a weasel and a stoat? Well the old saying goes a weasel is weasily wecognised and a stoat is stoataly different! But hey… thats easy to say if you know what they look like! On our recent tracking course we came accross these tracks, Can you figure out if these tracks are either Weasal or Stoat?

Stoat or Weasal? Answer is below…

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STOAT – Mustela erminea, also known as short-tailed weasel

Appearance: A stoat is 18-30cm long, with a tail length of 5-10cm, weighing 100-400g. (Compared to a weasel which weighs 35-55g.) A stoat has a sinuous body with rich orange-brown fur on the upper parts of the body and outsides of the legs, with a white underside. The tail has a black tip. In winter, the coat thickens and in northern habitats can turn white, retaining the black tip. It is this white coat that is referred to as ermine. Juveniles are similar to adults but smaller.

Lifespan: A Stoat can average around 10 years, producing 1 litter of young (kittens) in early spring. As is the same as the Roe Deer this species will mate in the summer and then the female will delay implantation until later so that the kitten is born in a time of plenty. There are usually 6-12 kittens, these will stay with the mother for three months.

Habitat: widespread, in a variety of habitats where prey is plentiful. They are usually solitary animals, though males abandon their territories to roam more widely for mates in the summer. In the UK Stoats are far smaller than their Northern Counterparts in say Alaska.

Eating habits: stoats will eat voles, mice, rabbits, eggs and birds. Often the larger males specialize in catching rabbits and hares, while the females focus on small mammals and birds. They are active hunters in both the day time and the night, frequently concentrating activities along hedgerows, walls and the burrows of prey. They will kill with a bite to the back of the neck. If a female has young to feed and discovers a litter of baby rabbits, she will often “clean out” a nest, taking each of the rabbits in turn back to her den for her young to eat.

Scat: The scat appearance will change according to diet. Fruit and mast scats are tubular, with smooth surfaces, little or no twisting, and often pointy ends. Fur and bone scats are extremely twisted, tapered ropes with very pointy ends. Long scats often fold over on themselves. Scats composed of fish or crayfish may be tubular but are often amorphous. All mustelids mark elevated surfaces such as stumps, as well as bridges, logs, or other surfaces over water or forest debris. Scats also accumulate at den sites, and piles are quite common at the burrow entrance. .3-.8cm diameter x 1.9-6cm L.

Tracks: Front 1.1-1.6cm L x 1.1-1.6cm W. Very small to small. Plantigrade. Asymmetrical. Five toes: Tow 1 is the smallest, located on the inside of the track, and does not register reliably. Several metacarpal pads are fused but individually lobed, and others register individually; there is an additional pad (the heel) at the posterior edge of the track, which may or may not show. The negative space between the toes and metacarpals is furry, which influences the track appearance. Nails may or may not register. Front track often larger and more symmetrical than rear track; occasionally the rear registers larger than the front. Rear 1.1-1.4cm L x 1.1-2.2cm W. As for front tracks, but because toe 1 sits farther back in rear tracks than front tracks, rear tracks are far more asymmetrical than fronts.

Trail: 2×2 gallop. Stride 10.2-101.6cm. Trail width 2.2-4.8cm. In deep snow, tends to use a 2×2 lope, but occasionally investigates in a walk, will also tunnel. Trails explore holes, nooks, and crannies in rock walls, in root systems, under buildings, in trees and under snow. Can climb.

WEASEL – Mustela nivalis

Appearance: A weasel is 18-30 cm long, with a tail 5-10cm long, weighing 35-55g, and so although similar in size they are much lighter than a stoat. It can be almost as long as a stoat, but has a tail without a black tip. Adults have sleek orange-brown fur on the upper parts and sides of the body, with white underparts and throat. Coat colour does not change with the seasons, whereas stoats can turn white in winter. Males (dogs) are larger than females (bitches). Juveniles (kittens) are similar to adults.

Lifespan: Weasels live for about 3 years, whereas stoats can live for 10 years. Perhaps as a result, weasels will raise two litters of 3-6 kittens a year in spring and summer, with the kittens able to fend for themselves after just 5 weeks. Stoats will have only one litter of 6-8 kits in early spring, following delayed implantation from the previous summer’s mating.

Eating habits: Weasels will eat voles, mice, small rabbits, eggs and birds, and will feed day and night, killing prey with a bite to the back of the neck. Stoats will eat all of these, but may also take larger rabbits, hares and chickens. Weasels can be found in a wide variety of habitats where there is ground cover and an abundance of prey, they tend to be solitary. Their sinuous bodies allow them to hunt in burrows and to follow the runs of small mammals through dense vegetation. They can also climb and raid nests. Above ground, a hunting weasel often stands upright in order to look around. They are thorough and will systematically search areas such as log piles for prey. Birds will give alarm calls and mob nest raiders!

Scat: Mustelid scats change according to diet. Fruit and mast scats are tubular, with smooth surfaces, little or no twisting, and often pointy ends. Fur and bone scats are extremely twisted, tapered ropes with very pointy ends. Long scats often fold over on themselves. Scats composed of fish or crayfish may be tubular but are often amorphous. All mustelids mark elevated surfaces such as stumps, as well as bridges, logs, or other surfaces over water or forest debris. Scats also accumulate at den sites, and piles are quite common at the burrow entrance, 1.9-5.1cm L, .3-.6cm diameter. Form latrines near nests.

Track: Front .8-1.6cm L x 1-1.4cm W. Very small. Plantigrade. Asymmetrical. Five toes, toe 1 is the smallest, on inside of track, does not register reliably. Several metacarpal pads are fused but individually lobed, and others register individually; an additional pad (the heel) at the posterior edge of the track may or may not show. The negative space between the toes and metacarpals is furry, which influences track appearance. Nails may or may not register. Front track often larger and more symmetrical than rear track. Rear .8-2.2cm L x .8 x 1.4cm W. Very small. Plantigrade. Asymetrical. Five toes, toe 1 is the smallest. Some of the metacarpal pads are fused, and others register separately. The furred “heel” may register. The negative space between the toes and metacarpals is furry, which influences track appearance. Nails may or may not register. Because toe 1 sits farther back in rear tracks than front tracks, rear tracks are far more asymetrical than fronts. Track and trail parameters overlap with those of other small weasels. Often weasel tracks consist only of claws.

Gait: 2×2 lope (but occasionally investigates in a walk). Stride: 10.2-76.2cm. Width: 1.7-3.5cm. Can be quite erratic, mixing long and short strides, and sharp turns of up to 360’.

Trails: explore holes, nooks, and crannies in rock walls, root systems, under buildings, in trees, and under snow. May make tunnels in snow 2.2-3.2cm diameter.

Answer:- The tracks in the photo above are Stoat, you can tell by the size of the track, the gait, and in particular the weight of the animal, leaving much more of a heavier/deeper print. If you’d like to learn more about tracking then why not join us on our tracking weekend

Sources

M. Elbroch, Mammal Tracks and Sign, p.175-76, p.479; P. Sterry, Collins Complete Guide to British Animals, pp.124-6.

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