Ermine

ErmineErmine — The stoat (Mustela erminea) is a small mammal of the family Mustelidae. It is also known as the short-tailed weasel and the ermine.

The stoat is a member of the family Mustelidae, which also includes other weasels, mink, otters, ferret, badgers, polecats, the wolverine, martens, the tayra, the fisher and in some taxonomical classifications skunks. This is one of the most species-rich families in order Carnivora. The stoat moves in a sinuous manner when pursuing its prey extremely quickly over the ground considering its small size and is also a strong swimmer that is able to colonize offshore islands. Although it inhabits northern latitudes the stoat is built long and thin, leading to an increased surface area-to-volume ratio and increased dissipation of heat from its body. The advantage of this shape is that it is one of the few species able to follow burrowing animals into their own homes. It partly compensates for this shape by having short legs, small ears, a fast metabolism and, in winter, thick fur. Stoats may grow up to 30 cm long, with males much larger than the females. In most areas it coexists with the Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis, also known as the European common weasel), and in this situation competition is reduced by the Least weasel, the smallest member of order Carnivora. Where the Least Weasel is absent the stoat is smaller

The stoat is a carnivore. It eats insects, rabbits; rodents such as the mouse, vole and rat; other small mammals; birds and their eggs and young; and sometimes fish, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. It is a very skillful tree climber and can descend a trunk headfirst, like a squirrel. The stoat is capable of killing animals much larger than itself. When it is able to obtain more meat than it can eat it will engage in “surplus killing” and often stores the extra food for later. When this is the case, it will often kill by breaking the prey’s neck without marking the body, presumably so its cache does not spoil easily. Like other mustelids it typically dispatches its prey by biting into the base of the skull to get at the centers of the brain responsible for such important biological functions as breathing. Sometimes it will also make preliminary bites to other areas of the body. In most areas in which stoats and least weasels co-exist, the Least weasel generally takes smaller prey and the stoat slightly larger prey. The larger male stoats generally take larger prey than females. Commonly, the stoat falls prey to animals such as the wolf, fox, cat or badger.

Communication (and also location of prey) occurs largely by scent, since the stoat as typical of mammals has a sensitive olfactory system. As a result much of this communication is missed by human observers. However, stoats are believed to identify females in estrus by scent, and also the sex, health and age of prey. Some kinds of rodents such as voles have counter-adapted by being able to shut down reproduction (which makes females slower and easier to catch) if they smell the odor of mustelids. The stoat’s visual resolution is lower than that of humans and color vision is poor, although night vision is superior. Like most other non-primate mammals they have dichromatic colour vision (they can distinguish long from short wavelengths of light, but cannot make distinctions of hue within those bands). Tactile information is conferred by the vibrissae, or whiskers. When alarmed, a stoat can release a powerful musky smell from glands near its anus.

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