Wild Thing: Pop Goes the Weasel
Long-tailed weasels are rarely seen cousins of skunks and badgers.
By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers
A few years ago, Jody Mays, a wildlife biologist at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in South Texas, had just sat down in the preserve’s outdoor amphitheater when she heard a rustling noise.
“I looked over toward the paved walkway and around the curve came a long-tailed weasel, bounding up and down with a huge rat in its mouth,” she recalls. “That rat was nearly as big as the weasel, which was why the weasel had to literally jump as it carried the rat along.”
Mays, who kept extra-still the whole time, watched as the weasel struggled along the sidewalk, then disappeared from view. “That was my first time to see a weasel that close up,” she recalls. “I was lucky to see one during the day since they’re mostly active at night.”
Long-tailed weasels occur across Texas except for the Panhandle. The slender-bodied, short-legged carnivores — aggressive when threatened — are related to black-footed ferrets, minks, badgers, river otters and skunks.
Smaller than a black-footed ferret, Texas’ only native weasel is caramel-colored on top and buttery yellow underneath. Body lengths vary from 12 to 20 inches, black-tipped tail included.
For its small size, the long-tailed weasel is a fearless hunter that can tackle larger prey using the element of surprise. Rodents and other small mammals, birds and their eggs, small reptiles and insects make up a weasel’s diet.
The weasel makes dens in ground burrows under stumps or beneath rock piles to have its young, called kits. It usually uses abandoned holes dug by other ground-dwelling animals, and lines the burrow with dry grasses and the fur of its prey.
In the summer, weasels use their foul-smelling scent gland to locate breeding partners. Males may also mark territory with the musk. After mating, embryos remain dormant until the following spring. Around April, females bear and feed three to eight young.