By Michelle LaFleche
Webster Animal Control Officer
Weasels are slinky, long bodied critters that closely resemble a ferret. In fact, both weasels and ferrets are part of the mustelidae family which includes fishers, martens, mink, wolverines, badgers, and skunks. They prefer habitats close to water and with an abundant food source.
These ferocious little hunters are curious and fearless. They are carnivores that prey on small rodents – rats, mice, moles, voles, chipmunks, rabbits, birds, bats, frogs, insects and even earthworms. Occasionally, they will even kill chickens and rabbits. Weasels attack by ambushing their prey, pouncing, and quickly killing it by piercing the base of the skull with their sharp teeth. Weasels can consume 1/3 of their body weight within a 24 hour period. At times, weasels kill more than they can consume and will cache the excess.
Weasels reportedly play an important role in the ecosystem due to the fact that they tend to hunt the most abundant prey. Once that abundant prey has been diminished, weasels will turn to another species to prey upon. As a result, the weasels do not endanger the long term welfare of their victims.
Although weasels are usually nocturnal, they have been known to be out and about during daylight hours. They do not hibernate, so they are active year round.
Weasels are usually solitary animals except during mating season and when rearing young. Mating season occurs in July with a delayed implantation and gestation period of nine to ten months resulting in litters being born in April or May. Litter size averages six to eight young but can be as small as four or as much as thirteen. Weaning occurs at five weeks and the young are able to hunt themselves at seven to eight weeks. Females mature at three to four months and males at about one year. Families will stay together until late summer and then disband. Their life expectancy is short - between one to six years.
Surprisingly, weasels can swim and climb trees. Weasels emit a strong musk type odor when alarmed and may stamp their feet when bothered. Legend has it that weasels suck the blood out of their victims like little vampires. This legend probably evolved as weasels will lap the blood of their victim before consuming it.
Weasels screech, squeal, purr, make twittering trills in rapid succession and will hiss if threatened.
When I was a child, I remember seeing a weasel chasing a chicken around our chicken coop. I summoned my grandfather who quickly made sure that weasel did not hurt any of the chickens. I don’t know what he did nor do I even want to venture a guess but I know none of our chickens disappeared or got killed.
That was the first and last time I saw a weasel until just recently.
I’ve always thought my barnyard was safe from most predators as it is surrounded by six foot high chain link fencing, was I wrong!
A couple weeks ago, I was feeding and watering the barnyard animals in the morning when I discovered one of my rabbits dead in its coop. The back of the rabbit’s neck was torn open and there was no blood. Well, I can tell you, my blood instantly turned to ice and my stomach sick with nausea. I knew that my poor rabbit had been a victim of a weasel. The rabbit coop had a small opening where a feeder had at one time been installed. The feeder was gone and the opening had not been of concern as it was too small for a rabbit to escape from. Unfortunately, it was big enough for a weasel to gain entry into the coop.
About a week later, I went to bed and was just settling in when I heard the chickens frantically squawking and the geese honking. Of course, I jumped out of bed and ran outside with a flashlight. In one of the chicken coops, I came face to face with a weasel. The little killer had Jose’s favorite rooster, Gringo, by the head and was attempting to drag him.
The weasel was not afraid of me at all and it was evident he had no intention of giving up poor Gringo. Luckily, I showed no fear and the weasel finally decided to forfeit Gringo and took off through the chain link fence and disappeared into the horse pasture. Gringo was clearly injured but alive and very lucky. The next moment after this incident, every chicken was secured and the rabbits were removed from their coops and placed in pet carriers to be transported to safety for the night.
Ever since then, the routine has remained the same – at dusk, the chickens and rabbits are placed on lock down. So far, there have been no further fatalities. Unfortunately, this habit will be a life long dedication as I do not wish to have any of my rabbits or chickens fall victim to this weasel, his family, or any other predator out there. Apparently, there are not enough mice or rats out there for the weasel to consume.
If you have rabbits or chickens, please make sure there are no openings in their coops larger than one inch to prevent weasels from gaining entrance. When blocking openings larger than one inch, use half inch hardware cloth or similar wire mesh.
My animals had been extremely fortunate for many, many years from predators. Like all good things, their luck has come to an end and now, I have to protect them from becoming victims. Most people would argue to eliminate the weasel, however, my philosophy is that where there is one, there is more. I’d rather eliminate their ability to feast on my animals and have them move on to somewhere else where their dinner is more readily available. Safeguarding my animals means never having to worry that a predator will get them.
So, if anyone out there has rabbits or chickens, please make sure they are safe from weasels and other predators; no openings larger than one inch, make sure predators cannot dig under in order to gain access, and secure all doors to prevent accidental opening and entry.
Till next time, respect and appreciate each other and all the critters that share our world.
- Tuesday, 25 September 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Four-legged Friends