Wild Profile: meet the long-tailed weasel

Published: November 6, 2018

By John E Heintz Jr/Shutterstock

Chilly weather means a new wardrobe is on the way for these slender but vicious carnivores of cottage country—in the form of a fluffy winter coat. By November, a long-tailed weasel’s cinnamon brown fur is changing to white, just in time to camouflage against the arriving snow. This adaptation allows them to better hide from predators—and to better sneak up on prey. Only the tips of their tails stay dark.

Squirrel-sized and adorable, with a tail half as long as its body, the long-tailed weasel is a tiny killing machine. Though it usually feeds on chipmunks, mice, and voles, it will also go after prey five times that size. To subdue and kill a larger animal—a rabbit or grouse, for example—a slim-bodied weasel will wrap itself, snake-like, around its prey, drag the animal to the ground, and bite it repeatedly on the back of the neck and head, to crush the spine or puncture the skull.

Weasels have a fast metabolism and don’t store much body fat. This means that they need to eat all the time, though instincts drive them to hunt and kill even when they’re not hungry. No problem: they cache the food and save it for later.

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