Mustela sibirica can be found throughout eastern Asia, north to the Sea of Okhotsk, and south to Kwangtung in China. In the south they range west to the edge of Tibet and the Gobi Desert, and north of the Gobi extending to European Russia. They have also been introduced to many of the islands of Japan. (Xu et al.,1995; Honacki et al., 1982; Tate and Hamiliton, 1947)
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); oriental (Introduced , Native )
Mustela sibirica is pale brown on the back, gradually changing to a paler, yellowish brown below. The tip of the tail may be a darker shade of brown than the rest, but is not black. Siberian weasel males measure 280 to 390 mm in head and body length and 155 to 210 mm in tail length, they weigh from 650 to 820 grams. Females are slightly smaller, with a head and body length of 250 to 305 mm, tail length of 133 to 164 mm, and weighing 360 to 430 grams. Foot length measures from 6 to 7.2 cm.
Range mass: 360 to 820 g.
Range length: 250 to 390 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
- Gittleman, J. 1985. Carnivore Life History Patterns: Allometric, Phylogenetic, and Ecological Associations. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
- Tate, G. 1947. Mammals of Eastern Asia. New York, New York: The Macmillan Company.
Habitat and Ecology
In Taiwan, Siberian weasels are mainly found in secondary forests at elevations of 1400-1700m. Siberian weasels can also be found, in less abundance, in primary forest and coniferous plantations. The preferred terrain for this species varies from ridges with 13 degree slopes to areas near water with slopes up to 37 degrees. (Hai-Yin, 1999)
Range elevation: 1,400 to 1,700 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate
Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; forest ; mountains
Other Habitat Features: agricultural
Siberian weasels, like many other members of the genus Mustela, are efficient and ferocious predators. They feed on rice-field rats (Rattus argentiventer) in the coastal areas of southern China. In parts of their range (Nakdong Estuary, Republic of Korea) Siberian weasels may feed on little terns (Sterna albifrons) and their eggs.
In the subtropical forests of Taiwan M. sibirica was found to feed on a variety of small mammals (shrews, rats, mice) and to switch to a more invertebrate diet (including beetles, grubs and other invertebrates) when small mammal populations were low.
They store prey for later consumption, especially for eating during the winter. In times of food shortages, they have been known to make mass migrations
(Xu et al., 1995; Soon-Bok et al., 1998; Wu, 1999; Nowak, 1999)
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; eggs; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Eats eggs, Insectivore , Eats non-insect arthropods)
Siberian weasels play an important role in controlling rodent and other small mammal populations in the ecosystems in which they live.
Siberian weasels, like their relatives, are capable of standing up to attackers that are larger than themselves. The primary predators of weasels are probably large raptors, such as owls and hawks.
- large birds of prey (Falconiformes)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
A study of wild populations in Japan showed that the average longevity of Siberian weasels was about 2.1 years. The oldest weasels were found to be between 5 and 6 years old. One captive M. sibirica lived to be 8 years and 10 months old. (Mayagi et al., 1983)
Status: wild: 0 to 6 years.
Status: wild: 2.1 years.
Status: captivity: 9 (high) years.
Status: wild: 2.1 years.
Status: captivity: 8.8 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Males may fight over access to females during the breeding season (Nowak, 1999).
Mating System: polygynous
M. sibirica breeds yearly during the late winter and early spring. Several males may court a single female, and fights between males have been noted. (Nowak, 1999) The gestation period is about 29 days and births occur from April to June. Litters average 5 pups, and range in size from 2 to 12 pups. Offspring are altricial. Eyes open at one month of age, and weaning occurs at two months. (Nowak, 1999) The weaning age for M. sibirica is 56 days and sexual maturity is reached at about 2 years of age. (Gittleman, 1985)
Breeding season: Breeding occurs from May to June.
Range number of offspring: 2 to 12.
Average number of offspring: 5.0.
Range gestation period: 28 to 30 days.
Average weaning age: 56 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); viviparous
Average number of offspring: 6.
Young Siberian weasels are cared for by their mother in her nest for several months. Their eyes open at about 1 month old and lactation lasts for almost two months. Young disperse from their mother's range in the fall. (Nowak, 1999)
Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Mustela sibirica
Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen.
Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Mustela sibirica
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1996Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
M. sibirica is on CITES Appendix III for populations in India.
US Migratory Bird Act: no special status
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix iii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Siberian weasels sometimes take domestic fowl.
As predators, these weasels perform an obvious function in controlling small rodent population. However, in recent years researchers have found the anal-gland secretions of M. sibirica cause rice-field rats (Rattus argentiventer) to go into self-anointing behavior. As a result, Siberian weasels are being introduced into agricultural areas to help control populations of these rats. (Xu, 1995; Zhongjian et al., 1995) They are also important in the fur trade (Nowak, 1999).
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; controls pest population
The Siberian weasel (Mustela sibirica), also known as the kolonok or kolinksy, is a medium-sized species of weasel native to Asia. It is classed as Least Concern for extinction by the IUCN, due to its wide distribution and presumably large numbers.
In form and hunting behaviour, the Siberian weasel represents a transitional form between small mustelids (such as stoats and least weasels) and their larger cousins (minks and polecats). It is a valuable furbearer, particularly for the paint brush industry.
Siberian weasels have long, stretched out bodies with relatively short legs, but are more heavily built than solongois, stoats and least weasels. Their heads are elongated, narrow and relatively small, and their ears are broad at the base, but short. Their tails represent half their body length. Siberian weasels are much larger than stoats and solongois, and almost approach ferrets and minks in size. Adult males are 28–39 cm long, while females reach 25-30.5 cm. The tail in males reaches 15.5–21 cm in length, while that of females reaches 13.3-16.4 cm. Males weigh 650-820 g, while females weigh 360-430 g. Exceptionally large individuals have on rare occasions occurred in the Baraba steppe. The skull is in several respects intermediate in form between that of the stoat and the mink ; it is longer and larger than that of the stoat, but is somewhat more flattened than the mink's.
Their winter fur is very dense, soft and fluffy, with guard hairs reaching 3–4 cm in length. The underfur is dense and loose fitting. Siberian weasels are monotone in colour, being bright reddish-ocherous or straw-red, though orange or peach tones are sometimes noticeable on the skin. These tones are especially bright on the back, while the flanks and underbelly are paler. A dark, coffee-brown mask is present on the face. Their tails are more brightly coloured than the back, and are fluffier than those of other members of the genus. The lips and chin are white or slightly ochreous. The front of the muzzle is darker than the remaining parts of the head.
Siberian weasels have an extended rutting period which is subject to geographic variation. The rut begins in early February through to late March in western Siberia. In Primorye, the rut begins in early March through to late April. Six pairs of Siberian weasels in a fur sovkhoz near Moscow began rutting from 25 April to 15 May. They mate for 35 minutes, doing so repeatedly. The gestation period lasts 38–41 days. There is one record of a female giving birth after only 28 days. Litters consist of 4-10 kits.
Kits are born blind and sparsely furred with white wool. They develop light yellow wool after a few days, and open their eyes after a month. Lactation stops after two months, and the kits stop growing and become independent by late August. By this time, the young are distinguished from the adults solely by their darker coats, deciduous tooth formula and lighter bones.
Siberian weasels are not fussy about their shelters. They may nest inside fallen logs, empty stumps, brushwood piles and exposed tree roots. They also use and enlarge the dens of other animals. The length of their burrows range from 0.6-4.2 metres and are 0.2-1.3 metres deep. The nesting chamber, which is located in the middle or end of the passage, is lined with bird feathers and rodent wool. Beside a permanent burrow, adults have up to five temporary shelters which are separated from each other by several kilometres.
In terms of prey selection, Siberian weasels are midway between small, rodent-eating mustelids and the more polyphagous martens. They rarely eat reptiles, invertebrates and plants, preferring instead to prey on rodents of small to moderate size. Water voles are their most frequent prey in their western range, while voles and mice are eaten in their eastern range. Moderate sized rodents targeted by Siberian weasels in the east include Daurian and Alpine pikas, and Siberian zokors. In local areas, chipmunks, muskrats, red squirrels and jerboas are eaten. Fish may be eaten in some areas during certain seasons. In Ussuriland, they may scavenge extensively on the kills of wolves and yellow-throated martens during the winter. Elsewhere, small birds are an important food item. Reptiles and amphibians are typically eaten at the periphery of the Siberian weasel's range. Plant foods known to be eaten by Siberian weasels include pine nuts and actinidia fruits. They typically eat about 100-120 gm of food daily, and cache excess food. In urban areas in China, Siberian weasels prey extensively on rats. They are capable of single-handedly killing and dragging the largest fowls. In contrast to sables, which are ambush predators, Siberian weasels are active hunters, readily chasing prey through snow, logs, water and people's houses.
Mustela sibirica sibirica
|Pallas, 1773||A small subspecies with light, yellowish-red fur. Skull length in males is 5.8-6.3 cm, while in females it is 4.9-5.6 cm||All of Siberia eastward to the Zeya River basin, contiguous parts of Mongolia and possibly extreme western parts of northeastern China||australis (Satunin, 1911)|
miles (Barrett-Hamilton, 1904)
Mustela sibirica canigula
|Hodgson, 1842||Distinguished from other subspecies by having a much greater amount of white fur around the muzzle, neck and almost to the forelimbs. It has an exceptionally thick coat and bushy tail. The body is bright foxy-red, and lacks a black tail-tip||Tibet|
Mustela sibirica charbinensis
Mustela sibirica coreanus
|Domaniewski, 1926||Korean Peninsula||peninsulae (Kishida, 1931)|
Mustela sibirica davidiana
|Milne-Edward's, 1871||Has a more intense colouration than fontanierii, being almost|
ochreous orange in fresh winter pelage
|Southeast China north to Hubei, Taiwan||melli (Matschie, 1922)|
noctis (Barrett-Hamilton, 1904)
|North Chinese kolonok|
Mustela sibirica fontanierii
|Milne-Edwards, 1871||Has a uniform pale fulvous coat with a pale brown forehead and muzzle, with varying degrees of white in the center of the throat and neck||Northern China, including Beijing, Hebei, Shandong, Shaanxi and Shanxi||stegmanni (Matschie, 1907)|
Mustela sibirica hodgsoni
|Gray, 1843||Distinguished from canigula by the smaller amount of white on the muzzle, the head's darker hue and the white area of the throat being limited to white patches rather than forming a continuous line. It is similar in size to subhemachalana and moupinensis, though its skull is smaller than the latter's||Kashmir and western Himalayas from Kam to Garwal|
|Far Eastern kolonok|
Mustela sibirica manchurica
|Brass, 1911||A somewhat larger subspecies than sibirica, with a lighter red coloured coat. Skull length in males is 6.3-6.7 cm, while in females it is 5.7-.6.2 cm||Priamurye to the west of the Zeya, Primorye and northeastern China|
Mustela sibirica moupinensis
|Milne-Edwards, 1974||Closely resembles subhemachalana in having a black tail-tip, but distinguished by its larger skull and greater incidence of white fur on the muzzle||Sichuan, Gansu, Yunnan and Burma||hamptoni (Thomas, 1921)|
major (Hilzheimer, 1910)
Mustela sibirica quelpartis
|Thomas, 1908||Quelpart Island|
Mustela sibirica subhemachalana
|Hodgson, 1837||Smaller than sibirica and has a blackish tail-tip. It lacks the typical white patch on the sides of the muzzle, which is blackish, save for narrow white lines on the edge of the upper lip and a white chin. The general colour ranges from bright foxy-red to dark chocolate brown||Himalayas from Nepal to Bhutan||horsfieldii (Gray, 1843)|
humeralis (Blyth, 1842)
The range of the Siberian weasels includes northern Myanmar, Laos, North Korea, Pakistan, Nepal, India, (Himalayas), Bhutan, Russia (from the Kirov Province, Tataria, and the western Urals through Siberia and the Russian Far East), Taiwan and northern Thailand. They have been introduced to Honshu, Shikoku, Kamishima and Jebu.
Relationships with humans
Although Siberian weasels are overall useful for limiting rodent populations, they are nonetheless damaging to poultry and muskrat farms. They frequently enter the roosts of domesticated fowl and pigeons, sometimes killing more than they can eat.
Siberian weasels are valuable furbearers, being significantly harvested in Siberia and the Far East. Their fur is used both in its natural state and for imitating the fur of more valuable species. A couple of alternative names for the fur were Tartar sable and fire marten. Siberian weasel fur makes the finest water colour or oil paint brushes and is especially sought after by artists. The so-called kolinsky sable-hair brush is produced using the winter fur of the male Siberian weasel, not sable. In China, their orange fur is largely used to create ink brush for calligraphers. The name of the brush is thus 狼毫筆, lit. 'Wolf hairs brush', as a reduction from 黃鼠狼 + 毫 + 筆, lit. "yellow rat wolf" "hairs" "brush". Their hairs are appreciated because they are harder than goat hair (羊毫). They are hunted by shooting with dogs or through the use of box traps. They are extremely aggressive when caught in traps, emitting piercing shrieks and letting loose a pungent secretion which reportedly takes a month to wash away.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mustela sibirica.|
|Wikispecies has information related to: Mustela sibirica|
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- Pocock 1941, pp. 374–375
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- Pocock 1941, p. 363
- Heptner & Sludskii 2002, p. 1078
- Laut, Agnes C. (1921 (2004 reprint)). The Fur Trade of America. Kessinger Publishing, 2004. p. 102. ISBN 9780766196162. Check date values in:
- Allen, G. M. (1938). "The mammals of China and Mongolia. Volume 1". New York: American Museum of Natural History.
- Heptner, V. G.; Sludskii, A. A. (2002). Mammals of the Soviet Union. Vol. II, Part 1b, Carnivores (Mustelidae). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Libraries and National Science Foundation. ISBN 90-04-08876-8.
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