Least Weasel

Episode 119 – Least Weasel: The Voracious Forest Noodle

“Today we’re talking about an animal that least but certainly not last. But more on that later.”

There are two basic paths of sustenance in the animal kingdom. You can gather and graze or you can eat the grazers. Predators are usually large, powerful, and able to take down prey that are built to resist them. But one true carnivore proves that meat eaters come in all shapes and sizes. And to witness this animal’s hunting habits, you wouldn’t think he’s at all disadvantaged by his stature. But, even for the least of carnivores, ferocity is the key to a full belly in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description

  • Picture a tiny mouse with short, blunt ears, then stretch it out a bunch and you’ve got yourself a weasel.
  • It has a long neck, a long body, stubby little feet with the mouse’s trademark pink people hands, and a short tail. Kinda like a cuter meerkat, if that were even possible.
  • There are many different subspecies, but they tend to have brown fur on their faces, backs, and tails with white fur on their bellies, necks, and paws.
    • In the winter, however, these stretchy mice shed and put on a pure white coat. If it doesn’t snow or the snow melts early, the weasel has a tough time surprising prey or avoiding predators.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We have a new measure up intro this week from I have no idea!

Length

  • 173 to 217 mm (6.8 to 8.5 in)
  • 8.5 inches
  • How many weasels go into the length of the longest bridge in the world?
  • Hint: The longest bridge is the Danyang–Kunshan Grand Bridge is part of the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway, which also includes the second longest bridge.
  • Answer: 760,368.664 weasels. The bridge is 102.4 miles (165 kilometers).

Weight

  • 36 to 250 g (1.3 to 8.8 oz)
  • 8 oz
  • How many weasels go into the mass of the M26 weasel, a WWII Tracked vehicle.
  • Hint: The Weasel was built to drive on the snow and it was used by the U.S. Army in Norway, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.
  • 6,909 weasels. The vehicle is 3,800 lbs (1,700 kg)

Range

They live all over the northern hemisphere from Canada and the U.S. through Europe and North Africa all the way to Eastern Siberia.

Fast Facts

Least weasels feature heavily in worldwide mythology:

  • Weasels are usually thought of as crafty and unscrupulous, but least weasels were actually considered a good omen in ancient Macedonia.
    • If a Macedonian woman washed her hair in water drawn from a well and then got a headache, she would likely blame it on a weasel having looked into the water as a mirror. But if she named the weasel out loud, it would destroy her clothes.
  • In Greece, they believed that the weasel was a bride that had been transformed and was so bitter that she would destroy the dresses of other brides.
  • Pliny the Elder, the Roman historian, claimed that the weasel was the only animal that could kill a basilisk, which is a rooster snake that kills people by looking at you.
    • The weasel kills it with its odor but dies in the process
  • The Ojibwe Native Americans thought that the weasel could kill the wendigo, an evil spirit that looks like a hulking undead moose monster.
  • The English in the 17th century thought that weasels were the familiars, or helpers, of witches

Major Fact: Least Only in Mercy

  • Despite their size, least weasels are voracious predators.
  • In fact, they are the smallest true carnivores.
  • They hunt small rodents like mice, gerbils, and hamsters. They typically don’t go after larger prey like adult rats. 
  • In some circumstances, they’ll eat birds, frogs, and eggs.
  • Even rarer, but possible, they’ll take down chickens and hares, which are much larger than they are.
  • They’re capable of killing prey 10 times as large as they are.
  • Young rabbits and voles are among their favorite prey.
  • Their slender bodies allow them to hunt prey underground and in burrows without being exposed to their own predators like birds of prey, foxes, and other mustelids.
  • They have strange hunting behavior. 
    • They will kill an animal by biting their neck, spine, or skull.
    • The animal will usually bleed out but sometimes they’ll crush the skulls of smaller animals.
    • Then, they’ll bring it back to their burrow, but they won’t eat the whole thing before hunting again. 
    • For the most part , they only eat the brains of their prey before returning to the hunt.
    • They’ve found burrows with up to 50 animal carcasses stocked away.
    • It’s believed that this is an insurance policy.
    • In the spring, prey animals are abundant, and there are a lot of young animals tucked away in burrows for weasels to eat.
    • In the winter, there are fewer prey sources and many of them are larger and difficult to take down. 
    • A den with a pile of corpses ensures the weasel’s survival if food becomes scarce.
    • Weasels don’t live paycheck to paycheck and they always contribute to their emergency funds.

Ending: So lure your enemies with your cuteness, mustelid up all your courage, and don’t be afraid to take on obstacles bigger than you like the least weasel here in LDT.