Ermine

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The stoat or ermine, Mustela erminea, is a small predatory mammal of the family Mustelidae. It is also known as a Shorttail (or Short-tailed) Weasel and less frequently as the ermelin. Sometimes "ermine" refers to the animal only when it has white fur in the winter, and in this case "stoat" only refers to it when it has brown fur.

Contents

Natural history

The stoat or ermine can be found almost everywhere throughout the northern temperate, subarctic and Arctic regions, of Europe, Asia, and North America. In an unsuccessful attempt to control the rabbit population, it was introduced into New Zealand. The animals are largely nocturnal or crepuscular but will sometimes come out during the day.

Physical description

The stoat is a member of the family Mustelidae, one of the families with the most species in the order Carnivora. The Mustelidae also includes other weasels, mink, otters, ferret, badgers, polecats, the wolverine, martens, the tayra, the fisher and in some taxonomical classifications skunks.

The stoat moves in a sinuous manner when pursuing its prey. It is extremely quick over the ground considering its smaller size, and is also a strong swimmer that is able to colonize offshore islands. The stoat is built long and slender, making it one of the few species able to follow burrowing animals into their own homes. It partly compensates for this shape by having short legs, small ears, a fast metabolism and, in winter, thick fur. Stoats may grow up to 30 cm long, with males much larger than the females. In most areas it coexists with the weasel (Mustela nivalis, also known as the Least Weasel), the smallest member of order Carnivora. Where the weasel is absent the stoat is smaller (~70 g).

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