A blur of fur caught my eye in the forest. Just as I looked over, something tawny scooted behind a tree and perched on a log. I walked softly ahead, hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever it was. It couldn’t be very big — a moose, deer, or elk would make a lot of noise. This creature seemed to move silently, but quickly amongst the brown duff. Finally, it, or should I say they, sat still for a moment.
What looked like three ferrets perched together on a log. But this was no ferret, but instead the elusive long-tailed weasel. I couldn’t believe my luck to see not one, not two, but three perched together. In a flash, they ran off, their black-tipped tails the last remaining memory of them.
When I worked as a Park Ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park, visitors frequently asked me about my most exciting wildlife sightings. Of course, most of them expected me to regale them of stories of bears and mountain lions. But frequently, it’s the smaller creatures that created my magic moments. Mainly because those small creatures are so rarely seen.
Weasels fit that bill. They owe the elusiveness to their camouflage — a tawny brown in the summer that allows them to meld into the forest. And in winter, they change their coats to a snowy white that blends perfectly with the feet of snow covering their environment. You may know them in winter by another name — ermine. In Colorado, we have two types of weasels that make their home here — both the long-tailed weasel and the short-tailed weasel. With the exception of their tails, they look quite similar with a white blaze on their chest and the black-tipped tail.
Though the weasel is small, do not underestimate them. They are prodigious hunters. As carnivores, they feed on meat, and with their speed and sneak attack, are masters of killing rodents like mice and voles. They are even capable of hunting down full-size rabbits to quell the hunger. Due to their fast metabolism, they must kill often to avoid starving to death. Weasels have even been known to kill birds in their quest to sate their unending appetite.
Perhaps it is this lethal hunting skills that give them a bad name. You’ve often heard the expression about someone being “such a weasel” — a term used to describe someone in a most unflattering light. Weasels when they kill, will deliver the death blow as a single deadly bite to the back of the neck.
Lest you think too poorly of a weasel, consider what our world would be like without them. We would have a lot more mice, rats, and voles running around.