Wednesday, June 4, 2008
And Here We Have the Weasel Jim
Weasels are mammals in the genus Mustela of the Mustelidae family. Originally, the name "weasel" was applied to one species of the genus, the European form of the Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis). Early literary references to weasels, for example their common appearances in fables, refer to this species rather than to the genus as a whole, reflecting what is still the common usage in the United Kingdom. In technical discourse, however, as in American usage, the term "weasel" can refer to any member of the genus, or to the genus as a whole. Of the 16 extant species currently classified in the genus Mustela, ten have "weasel" in their common name. Among those that do not are the stoat or ermine, the two species of mink, and the polecats or ferrets.
Weasels vary in length from fifteen to thirty-five centimeters (six to fourteen inches), and usually have a light brown upper coat, white belly and black fur at the tip of the tail; in many species, populations living at high latitudes moult to a white coat with black fur at the tip of the tail in winter. They have long slender bodies, which enable them to follow their prey into burrows. Their tails are typically almost as long as the rest of their bodies. As is typical of small carnivores, weasels have a reputation for cleverness and guile. They also have tails that can be anywhere from 22-33 cm long and they use these to defend the food they get and to claim territory from other weasels.
Weasels feed on small mammals, and in former times were considered vermin since some species took poultry from farms, or rabbits from commercial warrens. Certain species of weasel and ferrets, have been reported to perform the mesmerizing weasel war dance, after fighting other creatures, or acquiring food from competing creatures. In folklore at least, this dance is particularly associated with the stoat.
Collective nouns for a group of weasels include boogle, gang, pack, and confusion.