Reddish Vale Country Park
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Weasels vary in length from 12 to 45 centimetres (5 to 18 in), and usually have a red or brown upper coat and a white belly; some populations of some species moult to a wholly white coat in winter. They have long slender bodies, which enable them to follow their prey into burrows. Their tails may be from 22 to 33 centimetres (9 to 13 in) long. As is typical of small omnivores, weasels have a reputation for cleverness and guile.
The English word "weasel" was originally applied to one species of the genus, the European form of the Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis). This usage is retained in British English, where the name is also extended to cover several other small species of the genus. It is thought that the name "weasel" comes from the Anglo-Saxon root "weatsop" meaning "a vicious bloodthirsty animal". However, in technical discourse and in American usage the term "weasel" can refer to any member of the genus, or to the genus as a whole. Of the 17 extant species currently classified in the genus Mustela, ten have "weasel" in their common name. Among those that do not are the stoat or ermine, the polecats, the ferret, and the European Mink (the superficially similar American Mink is now regarded as belonging in another genus, Neovison).
Collective nouns for a group of weasels include boogle, gang, pack, sneak and confusion.
Weasels are often the subject of the children's song and nursery rhyme, "Pop Goes the Weasel.
Weasels, ferrets and stoats were the enemies of Toad of Toad Hall in the popular children's classic The Wind in the Willows.
Weasels live in burrows taken over from their prey, such as under tree roots. They have a range of 1-25 hectares, and they scent mark their territory. Weasels are normally solitary, and there is no pair bond between adults, and no parental care by the male.
Weasels mostly eat rodents, such as voles and mice, supplemented by birds or eggs in season. They must eat every 24 hours to avoid starvation. Weasels are active both day and night, alternating periods of activity with a few hours of rest.
The young are born in April/May. Unlike stoats, there is no delayed implantation of the fertilised egg. The average litter is 4-6 kits and the young are weaned at four weeks, at which time their eyes open.
They can kill efficiently at eight weeks, and are sexually mature at 3-4 months. Very few live longer than two years in the wild. Weasels have sharp eyesight and excellent hearing.
Common weasels are found in central and western Europe and the Mediterranean region (but not the Mediterranean islands). They also inhabit N. Africa, Asia and North America, and were introduced to New Zealand.
Although they look similar - one way to tell the difference between a stoat and a weasel is that unlike stoats, weasels do not have a black tip to the tail.