By Melissa Wynn
One of cutest wildlife sightings in our Mountain Valley neighborhood is the busy ermine. One of the smallest members of the weasel family these tiny but vicious critters weigh in at a mere three to fifteen ounces. They rarely make a single pound. Males are longer than females.
During the summer months our furry friends are a chocolate brown color with a white underbelly. In winter their coat changes to pure white except for a year round black tip on the tail. Ermines grow seven to thirteen inches long and up to five of those inches can be all tail. Elegant ermine tails historically graced the robes of royalty as a sign of purity and prosperity.
These scampering spitfires are a joy to watch when the do the famous “marten run” in which the hind feet are tucked in by the front feet, causing the back to arch, and then extend. It reminds me of the inch worm at high speed, too funny. They also enjoy a good rough and tumble play, chasing and rolling about at full speed.
Although the ermine (also known as the stoat) looks like a cuddly stuffed animal nothing could be further from the truth. These stealthy carnivores are constantly on the hunt for rabbits, small rodents, amphibians and insects and kill their prey with thirty four razor sharp teeth, with a quickness and without mercy.
Male ermine reach maturity at around one year and they are the late bloomers. Females are ready for their first litter of kits at just a few months old. Mother ermines have one litter each year ranging from three to thirteen babies. At around eight weeks she will wean them and teach them to hunt. At this point the boys are off to seek their fortunes and the girls are ready for a family of their own.
Ermine make their dens in rock crevices and under old growth trees in the roots so look closely as you hike through our wonderful wilderness. Maybe you too will catch a glimpse of elegant little ermine.
Facts courtesy of blueplanetbiomes.org