Written by Peter Pearsall/Photo by Alan Contreras
Weasels are short-legged, long-bodied mammals of the Mustelidae family, relatives of otters, martens, and badgers. At Malheur Refuge, the long-tailed weasel (Neogale frenata) is commonly seen in a variety of habitats; less common is the short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea), though both are known to occur here.
Wildlife enthusiasts that encounter weasels are sometimes struck by how hyper-focused these creatures are when in pursuit of prey, often ignoring nearby humans as they bound and dart about.
These opportunistic mustelid preys on small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even birds, capable of subduing prey larger than themselves. Weasels can climb trees, swim short distances and “weasel” into burrows to pursue prey.
They are incredibly quick and agile, and not just for predatory reasons—weasels are themselves prey to larger carnivores such as foxes, coyotes, and raptors.
Weasels are active year-round. In northerly parts of their range during the winter, they molt into an all-white coat to better match their surroundings.