Animals in Winter: Short-tailed Weasel/Ermine
The adaptive short-tailed weasel/ermine is a remarkable winter animal. In periods of warmer weather, the weasel’s fur ranges from brownish-red to black, with white fur on their belly. As winter approaches, and daylight decreases, the weasel’s fur turns to white and serves as a type of camouflage in the snow. During this period, the weasel is known as the ermine, which means “white winter color” in French.
The small but ferocious weasel is a skilled hunter. They are carnivores who eat primarily shrews, voles, cottontail rabbits, and rats. In the winter, the nocturnal weasel/ermine hunts beneath the snow where their prey may have burrowed to keep warm. They are known to store extra food or eat animals that are easier to catch like insects or birds if hunting is unsuccessful or food supplies are low.
The weasel/ermine occupy home ranges that span 25 to 50 acres in a variety of habitats like wooded areas or grasslands. They are territorial about their home ranges and mark them by scent. They build their nests in wood or rock piles or in hollow trees, often taking over the nest or burrow of their prey.
The weasel/ermine face specific risks as a result of their white fur. The ermine is sometimes hunted for its pelt. Additionally, during winters of inconsistent snowfall or fast melt, the ermine’s white fur stands out against the earth, making it vulnerable to other animals.
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