What is that … weasel?

Waddells

Before getting into this article, we would like to thank one of our readers for pointing out that we incorrectly identified one of the butterflies in our October 2, 2016 article.  We would like to inform our other readers that what we identified as a painted lady butterfly was actually an American lady butterfly.  We started doing these articles to help stimulate peoples’ interest in and knowledge of the diversity and complexity of wildlife that surrounds us, as many of us often take our surroundings for granted or do not even notice the fascinating wildlife we live with (until it bothers us).  We take great pleasure and care in taking clear pictures and researching the identity and habits of wildlife to include in our articles.  We will continue to work diligently in this regard but should we slip up in the future please share your information with us (and other readers).

The book ‘Mammals of Ontario’ identifies seven members of the carnivorous weasel family (Mustelidae) whose home ranges include the vicinity around White Lake: the American marten; fisher; short-tailed weasel; least weasel; long-tailed weasel; mink; and, northern or North American river otter.  These small to medium-sized mammals are characterized as lithe predators with short legs; long, slender bodies; short, rounded ears; and, thick, silky fur (for which they have been trapped).  We have observed and managed to take photographs of three species of weasel along the shores of White Lake: the long-tailed weasel; mink; and, North American river otter.

The summer coat of the long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata) is cinnamon-brown on the back, head and feet; orangey on the under parts; and, black on the tip (the last quarter) of its tail.  The winter coat is all white except for the black tip of the tail.  It ranges in length from 28 to 42 centimeters, with the tail being half the length of its body, and weighs from 85 to 400 grams.  It is an active hunter year-round throughout the day light hours, preying primarily on mice and voles but also feeding on ground squirrels, rabbits, and when available, the eggs and young of ground nesting birds. They usually make their nests in the burrows of prey animals they have eaten.  You can clearly see the lighter coloured chin and underside of the neck in this long-tailed weasel.

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The mink (Mustela vison) has a sleek dark brown to black coat, often with white spots on the chin.  It measures from 45 to 70 centimeters in length (15 to 20 centimeters of which is the cylindrical tail) and weighs from 0.6 to 1.4 kilograms, with the males typically growing to nearly twice the size of females.  They are mostly nocturnal hunters and are almost never found far from water, being almost as aquatic as northern river otters.  This voracious predator feeds on muskrat, frogs, fish, waterfowl and their eggs, small mammals such as mice, voles and chipmunks, as well as snakes, crayfish and aquatic insects.  The mink is a tenacious hunter that is active year-round throughout a home range which can stretch out in a linear manner along lake and river shore banks for up to 5 kilometers. Mink usually den in burrows close to water, often taking over muskrat or beaver dens but they may also dig their own burrows.  In addition to playing an important role in controlling small mammal populations, they are important prey for some owls and coyotes.

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We provided detailed information on the North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) in our February 28, 2016 article.  This summer we were treated to numerous opportunities to observe and photograph the five members of an otter family that spent the summer in the vicinity of our cottage.  We were especially delighted one morning to see the family cavorting on our dock.  Down went the coffee cup and up came the camera.  Unfortunately, the dock photos of that morning were not the best. Here are two of the many pictures we took nearby this summer.

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The information sources we relied on when preparing this article included Mammals of Ontario by Tamara Eder, Peterson First Guides – Mammals by Peter Alden and the Canadian Wildlife Federations’ Shorelines…a festival of life … A Guide to Shoreline Flora and Fauna.