Least Weasel

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Least Weasel
Scientific classification
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia
Order:Carnivora
Family:Mustelidae
Subfamily:Mustelinae
Genus:Mustela
Species:M. nivalis
Binomial name
Mustela nivalis
Linnaeus, 1766

The Least Weasel, Mustela nivalis, is the smallest member of the weasel genus, Mustela and indeed the smallest living carnivore. In Britain it is known simply as the Weasel, and this is the original use of the word. In zoological use "weasel" on its own is now more usually applied to the genus, and in North America it is used as a common name for a number of species. However, most literary references to weasels are in fact to the Least Weasel. The sinister Weasels of The Wind in the Willows, for example, are Mustela nivalis, and so is the Weasel that goes Pop in the nursery rhyme.

The Least Weasel is found throughout the northern parts of Europe, Asia and North America, except for Ireland and eastern Canada; it extends as far south as North Africa. It has been introduced into New Zealand. The North American population was formally classified as a separate species, Mustela rixosa, but it is now thought that the distinction cannot be maintained. They are generally found in farmlands, meadows, brushy areas and woodland edges.

Like all weasels, the Least Weasel is a slender animal with a long tail and short legs, enabling it to follow its prey—mostly small rodents—into their burrows. Its fur is reddish-ginger, brighter than that of most other weasels, with white belly fur; in the northern parts of its range it moults to pure white in winter, as camouflage against the snow (which is why it goes by the name of Snow Weasel in some northern regions, and is called Snow Mouse in Norway and Sweden). It is rarely more than 23 cm in length. Although most active at night, weasels are sometimes seen during the day.

Least Weasels are highly solitary, and even mating does not occur without a fight. Females can breed several times in a year when food is plentiful. Perhaps because of their small size, Least Weasels have an even greater reputation for ferocity than the other weasels, and there are many references to them in the popular cultures of different countries. Traditional Inuit lore held the Least Weasel in great respect because of its pugnacious nature, and the capture of one was regarded as an omen of good luck.

Through much of its range, the Least Weasel overlaps with the somewhat larger but otherwise similar Stoat.da:Brud (Mustela nivalis) de:Mauswiesel nl:Wezel (dier) pl:Łasica fi:Lumikko

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