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  The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition

Long-tailed Weasel
Order Carnivora : Family Mustelidae : Mustela frenata Lichtenstein

Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata).  Photo by Robert J. Baker, Texas Tech University.Description. A slender, long-bodied carnivore with small head, long neck, short legs, and relatively long, slender tail; upperparts yellowish-brown; head blackish; spot between eyes, broad band (confluent with color of underparts) on each side of head between ear and eye, chin and upper lip white; tip of tail black, remainder colored like back; underparts, except for chin, orange buff, which color extends down back of front legs over forefeet and on inside of hind legs to foot and sometimes onto toes. Dental formula: I 3/3, C 1/1, Pm 3/3, M 1/2 X 2 = 34. External measurements average: (males), total length, 488 mm; tail, 192 mm; hind foot, 51 mm; (females), 438-187-42 mm. Weight of adult males, about 300-500 g; females slightly less.

Species distribution mapDistribution in Texas. Statewide, except for extreme northern Panhandle, but scarce in western Texas.

Habits. Long-tailed weasels occupy a variety of habitats in Texas. In general, they occupy a range nearly coextensive with the ranges of pocket gophers and ground squirrels on which they prey in large measure. At one time they occurred throughout the state save for the extreme northern Panhandle.

Although largely terrestrial, these weasels are adept at climbing trees. They are strong swimmers and do not hesitate to cross swift streams. On the ground they frequent areas occupied by small rodents and often live in the burrows of ground squirrels and pocket gophers or in rotten logs, hollow stumps, and under tree roots. Their nest is made of grass and leaves and is lined with rodent and rabbit fur. They may have more than one home. Weasels are active both in the daytime and at night, but more so after dark. They are active year round and show no tendency to "hole up" or hibernate during winter.

They are apparently unafraid of man and have a strong sense of curiosity. Davis once observed one watching him with only its head projecting from the burrow of a pocket gopher. When he approached, it withdrew and reappeared at another opening about 7 m farther on. His closer approach again caused it to retreat and reappear at a third opening. This "game" continued for several minutes, the weasel always exposing itself to watch him but allowing him to approach no closer than about 5 m. By imitating the distress call of a bird, Davis was able to attract weasels to within 10 m of him.

They are vicious and aggressive when cornered and a bundle of fury in the hand. Charles Oehler reported that one he captured by hand could not be released because the weasel would not cooperate.

The food of long-tailed weasels consists almost entirely of small mammals — ground squirrels, pocket gophers, wood rats, cotton rats, small cottontails, and so forth; insects make up a small percentage of the total diet. Birds are rarely taken when other foods are available.

This weasel is polygamous and breeds mainly in July, with implantation and development of the embryos delayed until about 27 days before the young are born. The three to eight young are born about the first week in April in southern Texas. The young are blind, covered with a growth of fine white hair, nearly helpless, and weigh about 3 g at birth. Their eyes open at the age of 36 days, at which time they are already weaned and feeding on solid food. Shortly thereafter they begin to follow their mother on hunting excursions and remain with her until nearly full-grown. Sexual maturity and adult size are reached in females in about 3 months, but not in males until the age of about 12 months.

King snakes, gopher snakes, foxes, bobcats, house cats, large hawks, and owls are known to prey on them.

In general they are desirable residents of a community, but on occasion they enter poultry houses and wantonly kill chickens. Their destruction of mice, ground squirrels, and pocket gophers certainly benefits the agriculturist.

Photo credit: Robert J. Baker, Texas Tech University.