Weasels are animals that come in various forms. However, there needs to be more knowledge about our world's different types of weasels for us to protect them. In this article, we will examine their behaviors, diets, and other habitats across the globe. Read on to learn more.
Related Read: Weasel Facts.
Weasels are carnivorous mammals from the Mustelidae family, including river otters, badgers, and ferrets. The genus Mustela has the most weasel species, each with unique features. For example, when weasels move around, their hind feet register their front feet’s impressions, striding for about ten inches.
However, another genus, Neogale, refers to New World Weasels or mustelids native to America. Lyncodon and Poecilogale are other monotypic genera, still under the same family, with a species whose common name has a weasel in it. Overall, Mustela has 16 extant species, while Neogale has 4.
Weasels live in different ecological conditions, including high-altitude forests, expansive steppes, and dense rainforests.
They play a vital role in their ecosystems by controlling rodent populations. Unfortunately, some species of weasels, such as the black-footed ferret, are currently endangered due to habitat destruction and disease.
15 Types of Weasel Species
1. Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis)
The Least Weasel weighs between 1 and 4 ounces with a body length of 4.5 to 10 inches. Its unique appearance includes a short tail with a constant black tip; it also gains a white winter coat.
The weasel lives in various habitats across Europe, North America, and Asia, preferring areas with ample cover, such as marshes, woodlands, and grasslands.
Despite its size, the Least Weasels are formidable creatures that feed on small rodents and can take down prey larger than itself. They are primarily active at night and are agile and quick.
2. Short-tailed Weasel or Stoat (Mustela erminea)
The Stoat, or Short-Tailed Weasel, is a small mammal in the northern hemisphere. Its black-tipped tail distinguishes it from other creatures, and its coat changes color from brown and white to snow-white to help it blend in with its surroundings.
The Stoat can also reach up to 20 miles per hour despite its size. These adaptations help the Stoat avoid predators and hunt prey efficiently.
It is a bold solitary hunter that often takes on prey much larger than itself. It prefers small mammals, birds, insects, and eggs, with voles being a primary food source.
Its unique hunting technique involves a dance-like movement to mesmerize its prey and allow for attack. While the Stoat prefers to be alone, it will mate during mating season.
3. Long-tailed Weasel (Neogale frenata)
Formerly Mustela frenata, the Long-Tailed Weasel was moved to a new genus in 2021. It is a small but fierce predator found in various habitats throughout America and even extending to Bolivia.
This nocturnal animal's fur changes color with the seasons, displaying brown and yellow hues during summer and turning white in winter to blend with the snowy environment.
True to its name, Its tail spans almost half its body length with a black tip at the end. Its slender body, short legs, and ability to easily climb trees and navigate through water make it a formidable predator.
Despite its size, the Long-Tailed Weasel is an agile hunter that feeds mainly on small mammals like mice and voles, but it can also consume insects, birds, and eggs. Long-tailed weasels are solitary animals that fiercely guard their territory from other animals.
4. Yellow-bellied Weasel (Mustela kathiah)
The Yellow-Bellied Weasel is a small but fearless creature found in Asia. Its dark brown or black back contrasts with its vibrant yellow-to-orange belly, creating a striking display of colors.
Despite its size, it takes on prey larger than itself with the help of its sharp claws and agility. This weasel hunts at night and uses the cover of darkness to avoid becoming prey. This type of weasel is a fierce predator, hunting small mammals, birds, and insects.
During the breeding season, males and females briefly come together to ensure the survival of their species.
5. Mountain Weasel (Mustela altaica)
The Mountain Weasel is a small weasel found in the alpine heights of Asia. It resides in Mongolia, China, Kazakhstan, Nepal, and Russia, easily navigating the rocky terrain.
Despite its size, it plays a significant role in its ecosystem due to its slender and agile body. Its fur changes color in winter, turning white to blend with the snow-filled landscape. This adaptation helps it survive harsh weather conditions.
Mountain Weasels are opportunistic eaters and primarily feed on pikas and voles. However, they also consume birds, eggs, insects, and small mammals when possible.
6. Malayan Weasel (Mustela nudipes)
The Malayan weasel is a small carnivorous mammal that has adapted well to its habitat of leafy undergrowth. It is an excellent hunter and can catch small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. Likewise, it uses its anal glands to leave a scent and mark its territory.
7. Siberian Weasel (Mustela sibirica)
The Siberian Weasel, also known as Kolonok, is a medium-sized weasel native to Asia. It has reddish or orange-brown fur and a long, slender body that stretches 11 to 12 inches, with a tail that adds another 6 to 7 inches.
During winter, its fur changes to a yellow-brown shade, which is an adaptation to the changing environment. Despite being small, it feeds on various prey. It also eats fruits and berries occasionally.
This type of weasel is also an excellent swimmer and adept tree climber. While it is a solitary animal, it enjoys playful fights and chases.
8. Back-striped Weasel (Mustela strigidorsa)
The Back-Striped Weasel is a small carnivorous mammal in Southeast Asia. It has a distinctive stripe down its back, and its light brown or gray fur helps it blend into various habitats.
A predator primarily feeds on small mammals such as rats and mice. It has a strong sense of smell and uses a foul-smelling liquid to defend itself against threats. However, the Back-Striped Weasel faces threats like deforestation and the fur trade, risking its survival.
9. Indonesian Mountain Weasel (Mustela lutreolina)
The Indonesian Mountain Weasel is a small predator living in the mountainous regions of Indonesia. It has an elongated body and short legs; it blends in with its surroundings through its reddish-brown and white coat.
This nocturnal and solitary creature has a remarkable sense of smell that helps it track down prey consisting of small mammals, insects, fruits, and birds. Upon finding its prey, the weasel attacks quickly using its sharp teeth and claws.
10. African Striped Weasel (Poecilogale albinucha)
The African Striped Weasel is a small and brave creature found across the savannas and forests of Africa. They have a striking striped coat that helps them blend into the background and avoid predators. These nocturnal animals eat small rodents, birds, insects, and fruit.
During mating season, the females give birth to 2-3 blind and helpless babies. These little ones grow up quickly and show the same resilience as their parents.
11. Patagonian Weasel (Lyncodon patagonicus)
The Patagonian Weasel has a broad, flat head, small eyes and ears, and a mix of white fur with blackish-brown saddle markings. It is native to the open and semi-open habitats of South America's southern cone, particularly Argentina and Chile.
This type of weasel feeds on rodents, birds, insects, and lizards. Interestingly, the Patagonian Weasel has a closer kinship with the South American Zorrillas than its North American and Eurasian counterparts.
It is a solitary animal and communicates through scent marking. Moreover, its reproductive habits remain a mystery, although scientists have speculated that they might align with other weasel species.
12. Amazon Weasel (Neogale africana)
The Amazon Rainforest harbors the little-known Amazon Weasel. This carnivorous mammal remains one of the least studied members of the weasel family.
Its dark brown fur provides excellent camouflage, and its underbelly has a lighter hue. It is larger than its relatives, growing up to 11.8 inches in body length and a 7.9 inches tail.
This adept climber and swimmer is a nocturnal hunter who preys on small mammals, birds, fish, frogs, insects, and fruit. Its role in the ecosystem is to regulate its prey population.
The Amazon Weasel prefers a solitary lifestyle until the mating season.
13. European Polecat (Mustela putorius)
The European Polecat inhabits Western Europe and the British Isles. They are highly adaptable, living in various landscapes, including forests, farmlands, and riverbanks.
They are primarily terrestrial, preferring to move on solid ground during the night. Moreover, they have a dark mask-like pattern around their eyes that contrasts with their lighter fur.
Polecats are small, measuring between 13.8 and 20 inches. The male weasels are slightly larger than the females but are agile and strong. They have a compact, sturdy body, short legs, and a broad, rounded head.
Their diet mainly consists of small mammals, birds, frogs, fish, and insects, though they are skilled at hunting various prey.
14. Steppe Polecat (Mustela eversmanii)
The Steppe Polecat is a nocturnal animal that inhabits the vast expanses of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. They have long and slender bodies, short legs, and distinctive mask-like markings on their face. Its fur combines yellowish and dark straw hues with dark markings on the tail and head.
Likewise, the Steppe Polecat is a skilled burrower, and it often takes over abandoned burrows of marmots or ground squirrels. Its diet includes rodents, insects, and small reptiles, though it prefers ground squirrels and hamsters.
15. Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes)
The Black-footed ferret or American Polecat is a unique ferret species native to North America. It has a distinctive black mask, tail tip, and feet. The nocturnal ferret spends the daytime in its burrows.
This type of weasel primarily lives in prairie grasslands to hunt prairie dogs, which comprise over 90% of its diet. Unfortunately, this species struggles with habitat loss, disease, and the poisoning of prairie dogs.
Scientists once considered the Black-Footed Ferret extinct in the wild in 1987. However, conservation efforts such as captive breeding programs, reintroduction initiatives, and vaccination against diseases have helped prevent its extinction. Still, the latest IUCN assessments put the Black-Footed Ferrets in the endangered category today1.
Related read: Ferret Facts.