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Feature Creature - Stoat

Credits: Rachel Scopes

These quick and skittish animals are hard to find, but more common than you might think. And how do you tell them apart from weasels? Well that's simple. They are weaselly identified and stoatally different - just look for the black tip on a stoats tail.

Fantastic facts:


* Number of babies = up to 12 kits          * Enemies = birds of prey, foxes, people


* Favourite foods = rabbits, mice, voles, worms, beetles, eggs     


* Name of a male/female = Jack/Jill          * Name of a group = pack, trip        


* How long they live = 7-10 years          * Super-powers = bendiness and hypnosis               

What are these little beasts and what can they do? Stoats are:




This is the family of animals that stoats belong to. Mustelids include weasels, ferrets and polecats - which you might expect - but also pine martens, badgers and otters which are a little more distantly related (a bit like your great-aunt Norma who you don't see very often).


The stoats scientific (latin) name is Mustela erminea - 'Mus' = mouse and 'tela' = spear - describing the stoat as long and mouse-like.




Stoats are small, fast and dangerous. Their long and bendy bodies are perfect for squidging into holes in teh ground and wriggling along tunnels; their favourite hunting grounds. This helps them to follow voles and mice into their burrows where other hunters can't reach.


Stoats are also fast runners and will chase rabbits, twisting and turning their bodies to keep up with their athletic prey. Even tree-dwelling animals are not safe. Stoats are partial to juicy bird eggs and will even snatch birds from nests if they can find them.




It is said that stoats are so frightening and clever that they can hypnotize their victims before pouncing. They have been seen to 'dance' around in front of rabbits which freeze with fear and forget to run away. they are then swiftly dispatched by a quick and powerful bite to the back of the head. Stoats are strong enough to carry off rabbits twice their size, and their short front legs help to stop them from tripping over it as they go!


Fashion conscious  


When winter arrives and the days become shorter, some stoats begin to turn white. This is known as 'ermine'. In the UK, it is usually only stoats in the north that do this, especially those that live high in the mountains, because it is here that it most comes in handy. Matching yourself with your snowy surroundings is a good way of hiding from hungry birds and foxes whilst you're scampering about onthe hillside.


Females are the most likely to change their colour, and many don't turn completely white but end up patchy brown and scruffy. In the autumn when they begin to moult into white fur, they change colour from tail to nose. When they moult back again in the spring, it happens in the reverse direction! 


Follow this link to visit the species profile page of the stoat.


Where can I see stoats?


Stoats are found throughout Britain, but you have to be very lucky to see more than a glimpse of one darting across the road in front of a car. They particularly like to hunt for food in grassy road verges, hedgerows and field margins, but they do sometimes come into gardens. Check out these two taunting their neighbourhood cat!