Floridian Nature

Learn about Florida's beautiful and unique nature.

Florida Nature: Long-Tailed Weasel
Long-tailed weasel found through the non coastal areas of FloridaThe Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata) is the most widely distributed mustelid in the New World. Its range extends from southern Canada through most of the United States to Mexico, Central America and the northern parts of South America. It is generally found in open or semi-open habitats near water. The long-tailed weasel is found  in non-aquatic habitats through out the state of Florida.

The long-tailed weasel is a long slender bodied, long-tailed, short-legged animal nearly the size of a gray squirrel.  It is very similar in appearance to its cousin the mink, although somewhat smaller.  It is Florida’s smallest carnivore and weighs less than 16 ounces. It is typically reddish-brown on its upper body parts, with white throat, chin and belly, and a black-tipped tail. Like other weasels, the Long-tailed runs by a series of bounds, with its back humped at each bound and its tail trailing backward. It makes its dens in the abandoned burrows of other mammals, often chipmunks, and also ground squirrels, moles, or pocket gophers. Within the den it constructs a nest, primarily of hair from prey. The maternity den may also be in the burrow of another small mammal, or under a stump in a gully.

Long-tailed weasels have well-developed senses of sight, hearing, and smell, which allows them to be efficient and sensitive predators. Although the long-tailed weasel is strictly a carnivore, it is very opportunistic in its selection.  It preys primarily on small rodents, such as mice, rats and shrews, but it will also eat chipmunks, birds, eggs, reptiles, and amphibians.  To some extent, the size of the prey does not seem to matter. The weasel has been known to attack full-grown rabbits and will occasionally enter a chicken coop and kill poultry. When prey is plentiful, the long-tailed weasel will store its surplus food. Unlike most wild predators, the long-tailed weasel will often kill much more than it can eat.  Perhaps this is why it has the reputation of being a “bloodthirsty killer.”
Breeding of long-tailed weasels generally occurs during the summer months of July and August.  As with most mustelids, long-tailed weasels are capable of delayed implantation.  Delayed implantation is an adaptive phenomenon which allows the birthing of young during the best habitat conditions and helps to ensure the best conditions for the survival of young after parental care.  The young are usually born in late April with litters ranging from three to nine young.  The young are completely naked and blind at birth.  At three months of age, the young are nearly mature and begin to disperse.  Although males generally do not reproduce until their second year, females may begin reproducing during their first year.

long-tailed weasel, the smallest florida carnivoreThe long-tailed weasel can be found in a variety of habitat types. Forest edge, fencerows, stream banks, brush lands, open areas, and farmlands are all suitable habitats for this little furbearer. Long-tailed weasels usually make their dens in the burrows of other animals such as chipmunks.  However, they will use other suitable locations such as rock crevices, stumps and hollow logs for dens.  The nest is constructed of tightly packed grasses and usually lined with the fur of its prey.

Breeding season for minks in Florida is from late winter to spring. Male and female minks may have more than one partner. Mink show the curious phenomenon of delayed implantation. Although the true gestation period is 39 days, the embryo may stop developing for a variable period, so that as long as 76 days may elapse before the litter arrives. Between 45 and 52 days is normal. There is only one litter per year. They may have between six and ten cubs or kittens per litter.

Long-tailed weasels are not social animals; the sexes live apart from each other except during the mating season. One male's home range may overlap several female home ranges, but home ranges of adults of the same sex never overlap. While long-tailed weasels can be active during the day, they are more active at night. These weasels are also known to be noisy animals, but the noise is usually in response to some type of disturbance  Long-tailed weasels communicate among themselves with visual, sound, and scent cues. Females emit an attractive scent when they are ready to mate. Body language and sounds are used to communicate when weasels confront each other. Weasels exhibit very aggressive behavior to intruders of their home ranges.

Many long-tailed weasels die before reaching one year old. However, once they have reached adulthood they may live for several years. The lifespan of long-tailed weasels in the wild is not well known. 
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