The Long-tailed Weasel
(Reprinted from above link)
TEXT for posterity:
History and Status
Habitats & Habits
There are two species of weasels in North Carolina, the least weasel and the
long-tailed weasel. The long-tailed weasel is the larger and more widely distributed
of the two species. Biologists have described the long-tailed weasel as the purist of
carnivores, as every feature of their body and behavior is adapted to live exclusively
as a hunter. In short, they are effective rodent-harvesting machines.
The long-tailed weasel arose in North America approximately 2 million years ago
and thrived during the Ice Age. The weasel’s ancestors were larger than the current
form, and underwent a reduction in size that helped them exploit the new food
sources available in North America. Its small size and long body allowed the weasel
to easily maneuver beneath snow, as well as hunt in burrows and runways of voles,
mice, and lemmings. The long-tailed weasel is classified as a fur-bearing animal in
North Carolina and can be trapped during the regulated furbearer trapping season.
For more information on this species, including status and any applicable regulations, visit www.ncwildlife.org/long-tailed-weasel.
With long, slender bodies, short legs and flattish pointed heads, long-tailed
weasels are adapted to burrowing underground to catch prey or create homes. The
origin of their Latin name likely derived from their small, slender stature; Mustela
means a “mus (mouse) as long as a telum (spear).” Normally brown, with a white
or tan underbody, these weasels can have facial and body markings dependent on
their habitat. Their large rounded ears lie flat on their head and their tails make up
40-70% of their entire body length. They are agile swimmers and climbers, and their
running has been described as small bolts of brown lightning.
Long-tailed weasels can be found in a variety of habitats, including thickets,
forests, marshes, and open farm lands, but appear to be partially restricted to the vicinity of water. They are mainly limited by the abundance and distribution of small
prey populations. Due to their small size, weasels have high metabolic demands and
their populations are sensitive to fluxes in prey populations. To meet their metabolic demands, they are proficient and active hunters; if several prey are available they
will catch as many as they can and cache the surplus for later consumption.
Weasels hunt by using smell, hearing and sight, likely in that order, and they
systematically search an area, exploring logs, tree trunks, cavities, crevices, and
Photo Gerald Rozemeijer
Photo David A. Mitchell
Photo Becky Matsubara
Long-tailed Weasel Range
Long-tailed weasels tend to be solitary and elusive animals and are rarely seen by
people, even though they may be abundant in the area. Weasels will attack poultry,
sometimes causing disastrous results in the chicken coop. However, they may be
more an asset than a liability, as they eat rodents that would otherwise damage crops,
produce and poultry. Damage from weasels can be prevented by excluding them from
poultry houses by closing all openings with wire mesh. Trapping can also be an effective tool that can be used to remove depredating weasels.
Due to the elusive nature of this species, biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission are interested in observations from the public. If you believe
you observed a weasel, please contact the NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401 or
In addition to collecting observations, the Commission is conducting a camera
survey using “baited tubes” to document occurrence of weasels. Weasels are quick,
making them difficult to capture on a camera. The baited tubes, which are visual and
olfactory attractants, keep the
weasels around long enough for
the camera to snap a picture.
Information collected from observations will expand agency
staff’s knowledge on North
Carolina’s weasels, including
occurrence, distribution and
Length: 13-17 inches (males) and 11-14
Weight: 6-16 oz (males) and 3-9 oz
Mice, rats, chipmunks, shrews, voles,
frogs, lizards, snakes, insects, earthworms and poultry
Males reach maturity at 1 year old, but
females can reach sexuality at 3 to 4
months old. Breeding occurs from June
through August, and embryonic development occurs by delayed implantation.
While the egg is fertilized in the summer, it is not implanted in the womb
until the following spring. Young are
born approximately 27-30 days later.
Litters of 4-8 young are born in April or
May, weighing just 3 grams. At 5 weeks,
their eyes open and at about 7 to 8
weeks old, they can hunt on their own.
Average 5-6 years in the wild
Written by Colleen Olfenbuttel, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, 2019.