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Weasels are mammals in the genus Mustela of the Mustelidae family.

Originally, the name "weasel" was applied to one species of the genus, the European form of the Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis). Early literary references to weasels, for example their common appearances in fables, refer to this species rather than to the genus as a whole, reflecting what is still the common usage in the United Kingdommarker. In technical discourse, however, as in American usage, the term "weasel" can refer to any member of the genus, or to the genus as a whole. Of the 16 extant species currently classified in the genus Mustela, ten have "weasel" in their common name. Among those that do not are the stoat or ermine, the two species of mink, and the polecats or ferrets.

Weasels vary in length from twelve to forty-five centimeters long (six to seventeen inches), and usually have a dark brown upper coat, white belly and in many species, populations living at high latitudes moult to a white coat in winter. They have long slender bodies, which enable them to follow their prey into burrows. Their tails are typically almost as long as the rest of their bodies. As is typical of small carnivores, weasels have a reputation for cleverness and guile. They also have tails that can be anywhere from 22–33 cm long and they use these to defend the food they get and to claim territory from other weasels. The average weasel weighs about 198 grams (7 ounces).

Weasels feed on small mammals, and have from time to time been considered vermin since some species took poultry from farms, or rabbits from commercial warrens. Certain species of weasel and ferrets have been reported to perform the mesmerizing weasel war dance, after fighting other creatures, or acquiring food from competing creatures. In folklore at least, this dance is particularly associated with the stoat.

Collective nouns for a group of weasels include boogle, gang, pack, and confusion.

Weasels occur all across the world except for Antarcticamarker, Australia, and neighbouring islands.

Species

The following information is according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System, and IUCN 2006 for the extinct Mustela macrodon.

Mustela africana Desmarest, 1800 Tropical weasel South America
Mustela altaica Pallas, 1811 Mountain weasel Europe & Northern Asia
Southern Asia
Mustela erminea Linnaeus, 1758 Stoat
Ermine
Short-tailed weasel

Europe & Northern Asia
North America
Southern Asia (non-native)
New Zealand (non-native)


Mustela eversmannii Lesson, 1827 Steppe polecat Europe & Northern Asia
Southern Asia
Mustela felipei Izor and de la Torre, 1978 Colombian weasel South America
Mustela frenata Lichtenstein, 1831 Long-tailed weasel Middle America
North America
South America

Mustela itatsi Temminck, 1844 Japanese weasel Japanmarker & Sakhalin Is. (Russiamarker)
Mustela kathiah Hodgson, 1835 Yellow-bellied weasel Southern Asia
Mustela lutreola (Linnaeus, 1761) European mink Europe & Northern Asia
Mustela lutreolina Robinson and Thomas, 1917 Indonesian mountain weasel Southern Asia
Mustela nigripes (Audubon and Bachman, 1851) Black-footed ferret North America
Mustela nivalis Linnaeus, 1766 Least weasel Europe & Northern Asia
North America
Southern Asia (non-native)
New Zealand (non-native)


Mustela nudipes Desmarest, 1822 Malayan weasel Southern Asia
Mustela putorius Linnaeus, 1758 European Polecat Europe & Northern Asia
New Zealand (ssp. furo) (non-native)
Mustela sibirica Pallas, 1773 Siberian weasel Europe & Northern Asia
Southern Asia
Mustela strigidorsa Gray, 1855 Back-striped weasel Southern Asia
Mustela subpalmata Hemprich and Ehrenberg, 1833 Egyptian weasel Egyptmarker


1 Europe & Northern Asia division excludes China.

References

Footnotes

  1. Bertrand, John. A Gulp of Cormorants???. The Bosque Watch. Volume 14, Number 2, April 2007. Retrieved on 2007-07-24.



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