Scientific Name: Mustela frenata
Abundance: Common throughout state
Species Profile (PDF)
Long-tailed weasel (Photo by: Gerald Rozenmeijer)
Long-tailed weasel (Photo by David A Mitchell)
There are two species of weasels in North Carolina, the least weasel and the long-tailed weasel. The long-tailed weasel is the larger and more widely distributed of the two species. Biologists have described the long-tailed weasel as the purist of carnivores, as every feature of their body and behavior is adapted to live exclusively as a hunter. In short, they are effective rodent-harvesting machines. With long, slender bodies, short legs and flattish pointed heads, long-tailed weasels are adapted to burrowing underground to catch prey or create homes. Normally brown, with a white or tan underbody, these weasels can have facial and body markings dependent on their habitat. Their large rounded ears lie flat on their head and their tails make up 40-70% of their entire body length. They are agile swimmers and climbers, and their running has been described as small bolts of brown lightning.
Long-tailed weasels can be found in a variety of habitats, including thickets, forests, marshes, and open farm lands, but appear to be partially restricted to the vicinity of water. They are mainly limited by the abundance and distribution of small prey populations. Due to their small size, weasels have high metabolic demands and their populations are sensitive to fluxes in prey populations. To meet their metabolic demands, they are proficient and active hunters; if several prey are available they will catch as many as they can and cache the surplus for later consumption.
Weasels do not hibernate and are generally active both day and night. In more northern climates, they will molt their brown coat, replacing it with a white coat, except for the black tail tip. Solitary animals by nature, these mammals live by themselves in abandoned burrows of other mammals.
Learn more by reading the long-tailed weasel species profile.
The long-tailed weasel is a furbearer with trapping seasons and limits.
Long-tailed weasels tend to be solitary and elusive animals and are rarely seen by people, even though they may be abundant in the area. Weasels will attack poultry, sometimes causing disastrous results in the chicken coop. However, they may be more an asset than a liability, as they eat rodents that would otherwise damage crops, produce and poultry. Damage from weasels can be prevented by excluding them from poultry houses by closing all openings with wire mesh. Trapping can also be an effective tool that can be used to remove depredating weasels.
Visit our "Have a Wildlife Problem-Tips for Coexisting with Wildlife" webpages for more information.
Due to the elusive nature of this species, biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission are interested in observations from the public. If you believe you observed a weasel, please contact the NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to collecting observations, the Commission is conducting a camera survey using “baited tubes” to document occurrence of weasels. Weasels are quick, making them difficult to capture on a camera. The baited tubes, which are visual and olfactory attractants, keep the weasels around long enough for the camera to snap a picture. Information collected from observations will expand agency staff’s knowledge on North Carolina’s weasels, including occurrence, distribution and habitat preferences.
The information in this newsletter has been provided through the cooperative efforts of North Carolina’s licensed trappers and licensed fur dealers. The information they provide helps the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission monitor furbearer harvest levels and track trends in the furbearer populations. Two issues per year: Spring/Summer; Winter/Fall
Long-tailed weasel species profile (PDF)