The genus Mustela, as treated by Larivère and Jennings (2009), includes 17 species, as follows:
1. Amazon Weasel (Mustela africana). The very poorly known Amazon Weasel (Mustela africana) received its scientific name based on a specimen believed to have originated in Africa (Hall 1951), but in fact this species is known only from the Amazon basin in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru. These weasels have been reported from primary forest and humid riparian habitats and are reported to be good swimmers and climbers. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein) The Amazon Weasel and Colombian Weasel are the only known Mustela species that occur exclusively in South America.
2. Altai Mountain Weasel (Mustela altaica). This weasel, found in parts of central and northeastern Asia, occurs in alpine meadows, steppes, and forests from 1500 to 4000 m. It feeds on a variety of small animals, as well as berries. Although mainly terrestrial, it climbs and swims well. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
3. Ermine (Mustela erminea). The Ermine (Mustela erminea) is also often known as Stoat or Short-tailed Weasel. It is distributed broadly across much of North America and Eurasia, from tundra and alpine meadows to temperate woodlands, marshes and riparian habitats, and farmland, occurring from sea level up to 3000 m. The diet consists mainly of small mammals (rodents and lagomorphs), but also includes other small animals, bird eggs, and fruit. The species was introduced to New Zealand to control rabbit populations and is now considered a pest because of its impact on native bird populations. Ermine are trapped for their fur in North America and Russia. With the exception of some populations in the southern part of the range, the coat changes in the fall from brown above and whitish below to all white (except for the black tail tip) and this white winter fur has long been used in trimming coats and making stoles. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
4. Steppe Polecat (Mustela eversmanii). The Steppe Polecat (Mustela eversmanii) is found from southeastern Europe through central and northeastern Asia in steppe, open grasslands, and semi-desert. The diet includes small mammals and other small animals. These weasels may spend much of their time exploring the burrows of small mammals in search of prey. Although this species is not very well known, it is not believed to be threatened over most of its range. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
5. Colombian Weasel (Mustela felipei). The Colombian Weasel (Mustela felipei), which is known only from a handful of specimens from northern Ecuador and western Colombia, was first described in 1978 (Izor and de la Torre 1978). Very little is known about this weasel, which may be South America's rarest carnivore, known only from a region of around 10,000 km2 where deforestation is ongoing. Most specimens have been collected near riparian areas at elevations between 1700 m and 2700 m. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
6. Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata). The Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata) is found across southern Canada and most of the United States south through Mexico, Central America, and western South America to Bolivia. Long-tailed Weasels are found in a wide range of habitats, from forested areas to agricultural fields, but are especially associated with open brushy or grassy areas near water. In Canada and the northern United States, the summer coat, which is brown above and whitish below, becomes all white (except for the black tail tip) in winter; Long-tailed Weasels in the southern United States, Mexico, and Central America (which do not molt into a white summer coat) have distinctive white or yellow facial markings. The diet consists mainly of rodents and other small mammals. Although mainly terrestrial, Long-tailed Weasels can climb and swim well. Long-tailed Weasels, which are relatively common over most of their range, are trapped in North America for their white winter fur. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
7. Japanese Weasel (Mustela itatsi). The Japanese Weasel (Mustela itatsi) was previously considered to be a subspecies of the Siberian Weasel. This weasel is native to Japan but has been introduced to Hokkaido (Japan's second largest island) and Russia (South Sakhalin); it was introduced to Zamami Island (in Okinawa, Japan) in 1957 and 1958. Japanese Weasels are often found near water and sometimes near human dwellings. The diet is reported to consist of insects, reptiles, small mammals, fish, arthropods (including crustaceans), and fruit. This nocturnal weasel is considered common throughout its range. It has been introduced in some areas for the purpose of controlling rats and snakes. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
8. Yellow-bellied Weasel (Mustela kathiah). The Yellow-bellied Weasel (Mustela kathiah) is found from northeastern India and Nepal to southern and eastern China and south through Laos and Vietnam. It occurs in pine forests up to 4000 m, above the timber line. In western Himalaya it is found from 3000-5200 m in the cold deserts, but in Hong Kong it occurs at much lower altitudes, from near sea level to over 200 m. These weasels are reported to feed on rodents, birds, eggs, lizards, frogs, insects, and fruit. Although populations are not known to be threatened, little is known about this species. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
9. European Mink (Mustela lutreola). The European Mink is found along rivers, streams and lakes, rarely more than 100 m from freshwater. Areas with densely vegetated banks are preferred. Although the American Mink (Neovison vison) and European Mink are morphologically and ecologically similar, molecular phylogenetic analyses indicate that they are not actually closely related within the subfamily Mustelinae (Harding and Smith 2009 and references therein). The European Mink is very patchily distributed and has been extirpated from much of its original range in Europe, with populations now found in Belarus, Estonia, France, Latvia, Romania, Russia (west of the Urals), and northern Spain (recently colonized). It is extinct in Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, and Slovakia and populations have declined elsewhere in Europe. Habitat loss and degradation has resulted from hydroelectric development, river channelization, and water pollution. Although its fur is less valuable than that of the American Mink, the European Mink was nevertheless widely trapped commercially. Now legally protected, accidental trapping still occurs. In some areas, automobiles are a source of mortality. Competition with alien invasive American Mink has been suggested as a possible threat, as has hybridization with European Polecats in Spain and France. The diet includes small mammals, birds, amphibians, fish, molluscs, crabs, and insects. Water Voles (Arvicola amphibius) are often a major component in the diet. Conservation efforts are ongoing. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
10. Indonesian Mountain Weasel (Mustela lutreolina). The Indonesian Mountain Weasel (Mustela lutreolina) is found only in Indonesia, in the highlands of Java and South Sumatra. Specimens have been collected at elevations from 1000-2200 m. Virtually nothing is known about this species. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
11. Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes). The Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes) is known only from North American from the Great Plains west to the Rocky Mountains. Long thought to be extinct, a specimen was taken by a ranch dog in Wyoming in 1981, triggering the discovery of a small surviving population and a major recovery and reintroduction effort that is ongoing. Black-footed Ferrets are found on short- and mid-grass prairies and semi-arid grasslands, where they are closely associated with Cynomys prairie dogs, which constitute most of their diet. Their conservation status remains very precarious.
12. Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis). The Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis) is distributed across Europe, much of Asia, North Africa, and northern North America. The species has been introduced to New Zealand; Malta and Crete in the Mediterranean; and the Azores Islands and, apparently, Sao Tome Island in the eastern Atlantic Ocean; introduced populations have had serious detrimental impacts on some native fauna. Least Weasels occur in a wide range of habitats with good cover and abundant prey, including agricultural fields, grasslands, forests, prairies, riparian woodlands, hedgerows, mountains (up to 4000 m), alpine meadows, steppes, semi-deserts, and coastal dunes, as well as around human habitations. They feed mainly on small rodents, but other small prey are taken as well. This species is believed to be relatively common in Eurasia, but rarer in North America. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
13. Malay Weasel (Mustela nudipes). The Malay Weasel (Mustela nudipes) is found in Borneo, peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, and southern Thailand. It is found in rainforests, with records from 400 to 1700 m, often near water. The diet includes small mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Although this species is poorly known, it is not believed to be threatened. It is eaten in parts of Sarawak (in Malaysian Borneo) and there is some evidence of traditional medicinal use. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
14. European Polecat (Mustela putorius). The European Polecat (Mustela putorius), which is the possible ancestor of the domestic Ferret, is found across most of Europe west of the Urals and in Morocco. It occurs in forests, meadows, abandoned fields, and agricultural areas, often near water. European Polecats may be found near humans, but avoid dense urban areas. The diet includes amphibians, small mammals, birds, fish, and invertebrates. At one time European Polecats in western Europe were widely hunted for sport and fur and persecuted as pests, but these threats are now much reduced. Accidental mortality occurs from cars and secondary rodenticide poisoning. In Russia and Morocco this species is commonly hunted. Other possible threats include hybridization with Ferrets in the United Kingdom and competition with the introduced American Mink. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
15. Siberian Weasel (Mustela sibirica). The Siberian Weasel (Mustela sibirica) is broadly distributed across northern and southeastern Asia. It has been introduced to several Japanese islands. Siberian Weasels are found in forest, forest steppe, and mountains from 1500 to 5000 m. They are often found in river valleys, near swamps, and in areas with dense ground vegetation, around villages, and in cultivated areas. These weasels are mainly terrestrial, but can climb and swim well. Siberian Weasel populations are believed to be generally secure and the species is important in the fur trade. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
16. Back-striped Weasel (Mustela strigidorsa). The Back-striped Weasel (Mustela strigidorsa) is found in western China and parts of adjacent southern and southeastern Asia. It is found mainly in evergreen forests in hills and mountains, but has also been recorded from plains forest, dense scrub, secondary forest, grassland, and farmland from 90-2500 m. The diet is said to include small rodents. This is a poorly known species, but it has been seen both on the ground and in trees. Populations may be declining. Back-striped Weasels are sold for use in traditional medicine in Laos. Several thousand pelts were sold annually in China in the 1970s; outside China, this species is sold occasionally in Laos and Vietnam. Although these weasels are not known to have high economic value, accidental trapping may be having a serious impact on populations. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
17. Egyptian Weasel (Mustela subpalmata). The Egyptian Weasel (Mustela subpalmata), known only from Egypt, has often been considered conspecific with the Least Weasel (i,e., belonging to the same species), but is now recognized as a distinct species. It is found in fields and along irrigation canals, as well as in towns and villages. The diet is said to include small rodents and insects. Virtually nothing is known about this species, but it is not known to be at risk. (Larivère and Jennings 2009 and references therein)
Known prey organisms
Based on studies in:
USA: Montana (Tundra)
Norway: Oppland, Ovre Heimdalsvatn Lake (Lake or pond)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
- D. L. Pattie and N. A. M. Verbeek, Alpine birds of the Beartooth Mountains, Condor 68:167-176 (1966); Alpine mammals of the Beartooth Mountains, Northwest Sci. 41(3):110-117 (1967).
- Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.org. http://www.animaldiversity.org
- P. Larson, J. E. Brittain, L. Lein, A. Lillehammer and K. Tangen, The lake ecosystem of Ovre Heimdalsvatn, Holarctic Ecology 1:304-320, from p. 311 (1978).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
Specimens with Sequences:178
Specimens with Barcodes:151
Species With Barcodes:10
Weasels // are mammals forming the genus Mustela of the Mustelidae family. The genus includes the least weasels, European polecats, stoats, ferrets and European minks.[clarification needed] They are small, active predators, long and slender with short legs. The Mustelidae family (which also includes badgers, otters and wolverines) is often referred to as the weasel family. In the UK, the term "weasel" usually refers to the smallest species Mustela nivalis (also known as the least weasel).
Weasels vary in length from 173 to 217 mm (6.8 to 8.5 in), females being smaller than the males, and usually have red or brown upper coats and white bellies; some populations of some species moult to a wholly white coat in winter. They have long, slender bodies, which enable them to follow their prey into burrows. Their tails may be from 34 to 52 mm (1.3 to 2.0 in) long.
Weasels feed on small mammals, and have from time to time been considered vermin, since some species took poultry from farms, or rabbits from commercial warrens. They can be found all across the world except for Antarctica, Australia, and neighbouring islands.
The English word "weasel" was originally applied to one species of the genus, the European form of the least weasel (Mustela nivalis). This usage is retained in British English, where the name is also extended to cover several other small species of the genus. However, in technical discourse and in American usage, the term "weasel" can refer to any member of the genus, or to the genus as a whole. Of the 17 extant species currently classified in the genus Mustela, ten have "weasel" in their common names. Among those that do not are the stoat, the polecats, the ferret, and the European mink. (The superficially similar American mink is now regarded as belonging in another genus, Neovison.)
The following information is according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System.
|Mustela africana||Desmarest, 1800||Amazon weasel||South America|
|Mustela altaica||Pallas, 1811||Mountain weasel||Europe & Northern Asia|
|Mustela erminea||Linnaeus, 1758||Stoat|
|Europe & Northern Asia|
Southern Asia (non-native)
New Zealand (non-native)
|Mustela eversmannii||Lesson, 1827||Steppe polecat||Europe & Northern Asia|
|Mustela felipei||Izor and de la Torre, 1978||Colombian weasel||South America|
|Mustela frenata||Lichtenstein, 1831||Long-tailed weasel||Middle America|
|Mustela itatsi||Temminck, 1844||Japanese weasel||Japan & Sakhalin Is. (Russia)|
|Mustela kathiah||Hodgson, 1835||Yellow-bellied weasel||Southern Asia|
|Mustela lutreola||(Linnaeus, 1761)||European mink||Europe|
|Mustela lutreolina||Robinson and Thomas, 1917||Indonesian mountain weasel||Southern Asia|
|Mustela nigripes||(Audubon and Bachman, 1851)||Black-footed ferret||North America|
|Mustela nivalis||Linnaeus, 1766||Least weasel||Europe, Northern Asia|
Southern Asia (non-native)
New Zealand (non-native)
|Mustela nudipes||Desmarest, 1822||Malayan weasel||Southern Asia|
|Mustela putorius||Linnaeus, 1758||European polecat|
Domesticated ferret (ssp. furo)
|Europe, northern Asia|
New Zealand (ssp. furo) (non-native)
|Mustela sibirica||Pallas, 1773||Siberian weasel||Europe, northern Asia|
|Mustela strigidorsa||Gray, 1855||Back-striped weasel||Southern Asia|
|Mustela subpalmata||Hemprich and Ehrenberg, 1833||Egyptian weasel||Egypt|
1 Europe and northern Asia division excludes China.
Weasels have been assigned a variety of different cultural meanings.
In Greek culture, a weasel near the house is a sign of bad luck, even evil, "especially if there is in the household a girl about to be married", since the animal (based on its Greek etymology) was thought to be an unhappy bride who was transformed into a weasel and consequently delights in destroying wedding dresses. In neighboring Macedonia, however, weasels are generally seen as an omen of good fortune.
In early modern Mecklenburg, Germany, amulets from weasels were deemed to have strong magic; the period between August 15 and September 8 was specifically designated for the killing of weasels.
In North America, native Americans deemed the weasel to be a bad sign; crossing its path meant a "speedy death". According to Daniel Defoe also, meeting a weasel is a bad omen. In English-speaking areas, weasel can be a disparaging term, noun or verb, for someone regarded as sneaky, conniving or untrustworthy. Similarly, weasel words is a critical term for words or phrasing that are vague, misleading or equivocal.
In Japan, weasels (鼬、鼬鼠 itachi?) were seen as yōkai from time immemorial, and they cause various strange occurrences. According to the encyclopedia Wakan Sansai Zue from the Edo period, a nate of weasels would cause conflagrations, and the cry of a weasel was considered a harbinger of misfortune. In the Niigata Prefecture, the sound of a nate of weasels making a rustle resembled 6 people hulling rice, and therefore was called the "the weasel's six-person mortar", and it was an omen for one's home to decline or flourish. It is said that when people chase after this sound, the sound stops.
They are also said to shapeshift like the fox (kitsune) or tanuki, and the nyūdō-bōzu told about in legends in the Tōhoku region and the Chūbu region are considered weasels in disguise, and they are also said to shapeshift into ōnyūdō and little monks.
In the collection of depictions, the Gazu Hyakki Yagyō by Sekien Toriyama, they were depicted under the title 鼬, but they were read not as "itachi" but rather as "ten", and "ten" were considered to be weasels that have reached one hundred years of age and became yōkai that possessed supernatural powers. Another theory is that when weasels reach several hundred years of age, they become mujina.
In Japanese weasels are called "iizuna" or "izuna" (飯綱?) and in the Tōhoku Region and Shinshū, it was believed that there were families that were able to use a certain practice to freely use kudagitsune as "iizuna-tsukai" or "kitsune-mochi". It is said that Mount Iizuna, from the Nagano Prefecture, got its name due to how the gods gave people mastery of this technique from there.
According to the folkloristician Mutō Tetsujō, "They are called 'izuna' in the Senboku District,[* 1] Akita Prefecture, and there are also the ichiko (itako) that use them." Also, in the Kitaakita District, they are called mōsuke (猛助), and they are feared as yōkai even more than foxes (kitsune).
In the Ainu language, ermines are called "upas-čironnup" or "sáčiri", but since least weasels are also called "sáčiri", Mashio Chiri surmised that the honorary title "poy-sáčiri-kamuy" (where "poy" means "small") refers to least weasels.
Kamaitachi are a phenomenon wherein one who is idle is suddenly injured, as if his or her skin were cut by a scythe. In the past, this was thought to be "the deed of an invisible yōkai weasel". However, this has been established as a physiological phenomenon that dried skin that receives a shock would tear off. An alternate theory, asserts that "kamaitachi" are derived from "kamae tachi (構え太刀 "stance sword"?)", and therefore were not originally related to weasels at all.
In popular culture
- In the Foghorn Leghorn animated film Flop Goes the Weasel (1943), a weasel tries to capture Foghorn Leghorn for food.
- In the initiation scene in National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), Bluto (John Belushi) names one of the new members "Weasel".
- Weasels have their own holiday, titled Weasel Stomping Day, which is based on the song by "Weird Al" Yankovic.
- In Kenneth Grahame's classic children's book, The Wind in the Willows (1908), a pack of armed weasels overrun Toad Hall and has to be ejected by Badger, Mole, Ratty, and Toad.
- Frank Zappa's album, Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970), with artwork by Neon Park, parodies a 1950s razor advertisement.
- Shorter Oxford English dictionary. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. 2007. p. 3804. ISBN 0199206872.
- "The Weasel". The Mammal Society. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
- "Neovison macrodon (Sea Mink)". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species - Iucnredlist.org. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
- Lawson, John Cuthbert (2012). Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion: A Study in Survivals. Cambridge UP. pp. 327–28. ISBN 978-1-107-67703-6. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
- Abbott, George Frederick (1903). Macedonian folklore. Cambridge UP. pp. 108–109. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
- Thomas, N.W. (September 1900). "Animal Supterstitions and Totemism". Folk-lore 11: 228–67.
- Brown, Frank C.; Hand, Wayland D. (1977). Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina. Duke UP. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-8223-0259-9. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
- Hazlitt, William Carew; Brand, John (1905). Faiths and folklore: a dictionary of national beliefs, superstitions and popular customs, past and current, with their classical and foreign analogues, described and illustrated. Reeves and Turner. p. 622. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
- 村上健司編著 『妖怪事典』 毎日新聞社、2000年、36頁。ISBN 978-4-6203-1428-0。
- 高田衛監修 稲田篤信・田中直日編 『鳥山石燕 画図百鬼夜行』 国書刊行会、1992年、50頁。ISBN 978-4-336-03386-4。
- 少年社・中村友紀夫・武田えり子編 『妖怪の本 異界の闇に蠢く百鬼夜行の伝説』 学習研究社〈New sight mook〉、1999年、123頁。ISBN 978-4-05-602048-9。
- 草野巧 『幻想動物事典』 新紀元社、1997年、30頁。ISBN 978-4-88317-283-2。
- 『広辞苑 第4版』(1991年)、岩波書店「いづなつかい【飯綱使・飯縄遣】」の項
- 武藤, 鉄城 (1940), "秋田郡邑魚譚", アチックミユーゼアム彙報 (「仙北地方/生保内村」の部) 45: 41–42,
- 知里, 真志保 (Chiri, Mashiho) (30 Mar 1959), "アイヌ語獣名集 (On the names of the mammals of the Ainu language)" (pdf), 北海道大學文學部紀要 = The annual reports on cultural science: 141, ISSN 0437-6668
- "Mustela". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 24 July 2007.
- Nowak, Ronald M., and Ernest P. Walker. Walker's Carnivores of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8018-8033-5, ISBN 0-8018-8032-7.
- C. Hart Merriam, Synopsis of the Weasels of North America, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1896.
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