wildlife

Weasels of the Pacific Northwest.

The fact that weasels are actually found all around the world, including here in the Pacific Northwest, might be surprising to some. But these nocturnal animals are small, with the largest getting to be only a couple feet long and weigh less than a pound, and their colorings allow for them to blend into their environment! In the Pacific Northwest, there are two weasel species, the long and short-tailed, with the obvious difference being the length of their tail.

Despite their cute faces and small demeanor, weasels are rather violent, bloodthirsty animals. They will eat 40% of their body weight every day and even on a full belly, these animals will kill anything that looks like prey. Sometimes, they’ve been known to take down animals ten times their size! Like stoats, weasels have also been known to do a ‘weasel war dance’ when their prey is cornered but scientists aren’t completely sure why they do it.

The Long-Tailed Weasel

This species can be found from North to South America, stretching from southern Canada to Bolivia and Venezuela. Their habitats tend to be temperate and terrestrial ones, like crop fields, grasslands, and wooded areas. More often than not, these weasels are found in more open habitats than forested ones. Burrows and nests for the long-tailed weasel are often found in hollow logs, under barns, and in rock piles. On occasion, some long-tailed weasels will even take the burrow of their prey.

Long-tailed weasels will shed twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. The length of the day and night actually determines when these weasels shed! In southern populations, long-tailed weasels are a cinnamon brown color with a yellow-white underbelly all year round. Northern long-tailed weasels, on the other hand, are cinnamon brown with a white underbelly in the summer and all white in the winter.

The Olympic Short-Tailed Weasel

Found only on the Olympic Peninsula, the Olympic Short-Tailed Weasel is long and slender with short legs and short tails. Their coats are light brown with a yellowish underside. Despite their size, these weasels actually prey upon mammals bigger than themselves and will often feed on small rodents. Their slender bodies allow them to chase after rodents into their burrows. Frequently, they’ll kill more than they can eat and bury the rest to eat at a later time.

Unlike other weasels, the Olympic Short-Tailed Weasel doesn’t turn white in the winter, as they stay brown all year round. They’re also great swimmers and found in open habitats near water.

Similar Animals

Weasels are a part of the Mustelidae family, which means they’re in the same family as otters, minks, marten, and fishers. As they are strong swimmers, minks are commonly found near bodies of water and can be found all over North America. They’re larger than weasels and their coats are usually a solid dark brown color. Occasionally, they might have a small pale spot on their chin and scattered white spots on their bellies. The undersides of weasels tend to be constantly lighter in color.

While they look similar to weasels, fishers are actually larger (similar to a large house cat) and have a distinctly long and bushy tail. In 2015, a handful of fishers were released in the Washington Cascades after they disappeared from the area in the early 20th century. Martens, on the other hand, are small and rarely weigh more than five pounds and they stay their dark brown color all year round. Unlike the weasel’s slender tail, a marten’s tail is bushy and almost black in color. Their populations have been okay in other areas of the US but in the coastal ranges of Oregon and Washington, it’s been difficult to spot them.

Predators

While weasels are fierce fighters, there are predators that eat them, including bobcats, coyotes, large owls, and even people. While the fur from various animals in the Mustelidae family has been used to make fur coats, it can take as many as 100 minks to do so. All of these animals should be avoided if possible and not just because their wild populations are dwindling. Like skunks, weasels and minks will emit an utterly pungent odor when provoked.

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It can be difficult for the average person to tell the difference between a weasel, fisher, mink, or marten. But their size, coloring, and tails are all different! Have you seen a weasel before? Let me know in the comments!

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17 comments on “Weasels of the Pacific Northwest.

  1. Robyn Albro

    I have seen mink out in the islands, on the shoreline of San Juan Island, when I was in a boat offshore. There was a mink that got into our boat (for my job on Lopez Island) and left a fish head for us (among other things!).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve had a delightful morning once photographing a colony of weasels. It was a real hoot! And once, a mink. I’m still looking for the other critters you mentioned. Maybe some day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s amazing! I still haven’t seen a weasel or anything similar but I hope someday soon!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It was quite a surprise. We had gone to photograph a prairie dog colony with lots of new babies. Then in a nearby brush pile, we saw a lot of movement – the weasel colony! I think I heard they were black-tail weasels, which might be different than the ones you featured, but they looked the same to me!

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s hard to tell! I’ve gotten some comments from folks wondering what weasel like animal they saw and it can be difficult to figure out.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I just saw a weasel take down a young rabbit bigger than he was, this morning. It was incredible. I thought it was a chipmunk at first chasing the rabbit but when he caught him, the weasel just stared at me. After realizing I wasn’t a threat, he took his meal into the woods. Still not sure what kind of weasel. He was dark brown, almost auburn with an orange throat and chest.

    Like

    • Michele Zarb

      Hello Monteo,
      I have lived on the Kitsap Peninsula for 10 years in the same area, and never saw a weasel until this spring. One fitting your description was living under my house for a few weeks. I didn’t mind. Then I didn’t see it all summer. Surprise! Yesterday when I was driving home the same species of weasel darted across the road. Then today I heard a very strange vocalization, and low and behold, there was a weasel in the apple tree in from of my kitchen!! I didn’t know they climbed trees. LOL It scurried around for a bit than climbed down and run under some bushes. Chocolate brown on top, dark orange belly and chin, tiny like a chip monk. I would love to know which one it is. Tail almost as long as body

      Liked by 1 person

      • Monteo McCudden

        I just saw your reply. That is so cool! Sounds exactly like the one I saw. So fun to see them out. I haven’t seen one since that day. Have you seen anymore?

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  4. Just saw a weasel run in front of me while drinking coffee out on my deck on Guemes Island. Dark brown in color with a long tail. I had my first encounter with an otter 2 weeks ago in my back yard. What a great place to live!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Weasels of the Pacific Northwest. — Animals of the Pacific Northwest | huggers.ca

  6. Pamela Wellington

    Just had a long tailed weasel run through the RV park we are staying at in Airway Heights Washington. It’s run through our site twice this morning. We think it’s purposely trying to make our dog freak out LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Aaron Ball

    We have a long tailed Weasel that recently moved in. We first noticed that the rats were gone from under our shed. Then weeks later our children spotted the weasel. I spotted it the very next day. Now our mole infestation has ceased. I love our new yard mate. We will continue to keep our distance, but the Weasley is by far more welcome than rats and moles.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kathy Anderson

    We just saw what looks like a long tailed weasel on South Shore of Lake Chelan. It had a white belly and brown head and body. First time seeing this animal after living on Lake for 25 years.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hello,

    I am not sure if this is significant or not, but I spotted a Stoat on my way to work in Vancouver Washington. It was running back and forth across a road between two fields. I had never seen anything like it in the wild before, so I looked it up and sure enough Stoat.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Tim Maakestad

    I saw what I believe was a Marten yesterday in orting while fishing. It was light in color, almost golden or orange tinted. I’m not sure what I saw but I do believe it was in the weasel family????

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Shaun Allen

    I was just out talking with a neighbor and spotted a long tail weasel running up and around the tires of a few parked cars. Was able to capture a picture of it. I used to have a lot of rabbits around the yards of my neighborhood but I guess this would explain why thy have vanished.

    Liked by 1 person

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