The Stoat (Mustela erminea) is a small mammal of the family Mustelidae which also includes other weasels, mink, otters, ferret, badgers, polecats, the wolverine, martens, the tayra, the fisher and skunks. The Stoat is also known as the Short-tailed weasel and the Ermine. Stoats are found throughout mainland Britain in a variety of habitats.
Appearance The Stoat has an average head and body length of between 16 and 31 centimetres and stoats in Britain can weigh from 90 to 445 grams. Male stoats usually measure 29 centimetres with a tail length of 11 centimetres and females around 26 centimetres with a 9 centimetre tail length. Male stoats are larger than females. The appearance of a Stoat is similar to that of a weasel, although the stoat is considerably larger and has a distinctive black tip to its tail. Stoats have a long, slender, cylindrical body and neck, short legs and a long tail. Their fur is chestnut brown in summer, with lighter underparts. In winter their fur becomes thicker and turns white, this is when they are referred to as Ermine or as being ‘in ermine’.
Habitat Stoats prefer moorland, marsh near woods, lowland farms, shoreline or mountains as suitable habitats. Where there is suitable food, they occur in a wide range of habitats from lowland forests and even towns. Stoats make nests of grass and leaves in hollow trunks, mole hills, walls, banks, burrows, rock crevices (dry stone walls for example) or thickets. The female stoat is territorial in the breeding season, however, male stoats are not.
Breeding Stoats breed in the warmer months of May and June but there is a delayed reaction in the uterus of the female stoat meaning that the embryos don’t begin to develop for a number of months. The gestation period after this is just 21 – 28 days, so the young are born in April to May the following year. Female stoats produce 1 litter of 5 – 12 young per year. The young are called ‘kits’. The young are weaned at 5 weeks and are fully independent and able to kill their own prey at 12 weeks. Male stoats will sometimes mate with young female kits in the nest, so that they are pregnant before they even leave their mothers. The average life span of a stoat is 1 – 1.5 years, however, they can live up to 7 years of age.
Diet Stoats are largely carnivorous and their primary food source is the rabbit, despite being many times its own weight, supplemented with small rodents, (such as voles and mice), hares and birds. It also eats insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. When food is scarce they will eat carrion (dead animal carcasses). The stoat is capable of killing animals much larger than itself. When it is able to obtain more meat than it can eat, it will engage in ‘surplus killing’ and often stores the extra food for later. Stoats kill their prey by a bite to the back of the neck and may travel as far as 8 kilometres in one hunt. Stoats are fierce predators and can move at speeds of 20 miles per hour when hunting.
Behaviour The stoat is territorial and intolerant of others in its range, especially others of the same sex. The stoat typically uses several dens, often taken from prey species. It usually travels alone, except when it is mating or is a mother with older offspring.
Stoats are relatively common and are therefore not classed as endangered. The main dangers to the stoat are starvation in winter, predation by larger carnivores and being killed on the roads. Some farmers and gamekeepers shoot or trap them because stoats eat the eggs and young fledglings of game birds like partridge and pheasant.
If you suspect you have a stoat problem in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee or Perth, call GRAHAM pest control today and we could help.