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January 04. 2013 10:32PM

Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Weasels bold, inquisitive, bloodthirsty and fearless


 
A long-tailed weasel was told of in a Nov. 20 letter from a Campton reader who wrote in part: "At mid-day my wife was in the kitchen doing Thanksgiving preparations when she looked out the window toward several of our bird feeders and saw something white scurrying along the stone wall. It was a long-tailed weasel in its winter coat. It was bouncing along and weaving its way through the stones to get closer to the blue jays, mourning doves, chickadees, and red squirrels. The weasel would dash out from the stone wall numerous times but never got one of the many seed eaters. The weasel could really jump straight up and latch onto several of the feeders, and it even climbed several trees to perch above the suet feeder, but to no avail. It stayed around for about 20 minutes, never still but we did manage to get several shots with my Nikkon SLR with a good zoom lens. We even went outside on the porch to get an unobstructed view of the weasel and he/she would look up at us, but didn't seem all that concerned. We've had weasels around before, and the mice population seems to dwindle right after we spot the weasels patrolling the stone walls."

According to my good friend, the late Hilbert "Bandy" Siegler, in his book "Nature Notes," published in 1962, by Equity Publishing Company of Orford: "There are three kinds of weasels in New Hampshire - the long-tailed weasel in the extreme northeastern part of the state, the New York weasel which is fairly common in the southern half of the state and the small Bonaparte's weasel, which is common throughout the state."

Each of the three species of weasels are referred to in some texts as "ermine." According to "The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals": "In the northern part of their range, weasels' coats turn white in winter; but to the south, within a 600 mile-wide transcontinental belt, some molt to white while others remain brown. The color change is evidently genetically determined: If a northern weasel is captured and taken south, it still turns white in winter, and a southern weasel transported north remains brown. The time of the molt is governed by the length of the period of daylight; weasels are piebald before the color change is completed."

With specific reference to the name "ermine" John James Audubon wrote: "The name of Ermine is associated with the pride of state and luxury, its fur having from time immemorial been the favourite ornament of the robes of princes, judges and prelates. From its snowy whiteness it is emblematic of the purity which they sought to possess." Commenting on its beauty, Audubon wrote: "To us the Ermine, in its winter dress, has always appeared strikingly beautiful. On a wintry day, when the earth was covered with a broad sheet of snow, our attention has sometimes been arrested by this little animal peering out from a log heap, or the crevices of a stone fence; its eyes in certain shades of light appearing like sapphires, its colour vying in whiteness and brilliancy with the snowy mantle of the surrounding landscape.

"The weasel family differs in size, color and structure. In size they range from the New York weasel which is about sixteen inches from nose to tip of tail to the Least or Pigmy weasel about seven inches in length. Actually there are about thirty recognized species and sub-species in the world, but their habits are similar.

"Weasels are bold and inquisitive little animals, rarely exhibiting fear of humans. Even so, they are ever alert. They are extremely active both day and night. Males are larger than females. Weasels are quite prolific in that they may have as many as eight young in a litter.

"Yet with all these external attractions, this little Weasel is fierce and bloodthirsty, possessing an intuitive propensity to destroy every animal and bird within its reach, some of which, such as the American rabbit, the ruffed grouse and domestic fowl, are ten times its own size. It is a notorious and hated depredator of the poultry house, and we have known forty well-grown fowls to have been killed in one night by a single Ermine. Notwithstanding all these mischievous and destructive habits, it is doubtful whether the Ermine is not rather a benefactor than an enemy to the farmer, ridding his granaries and fields of many depredators on the product of his labour, that would devour ten times the value of the poultry and eggs which, at long and uncertain intervals, it occasionally destroys.

"If the weasel were the size of a bobcat, it would probably be the most dangerous animal in North America. This bloodthirsty little animal is intelligent, lightning-quick, very strong for its size and fearless. It has been known to attack humans who have come between it and its prey."

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.

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