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A weasel is a mammal of the genus Mustela of the family Mustelidae. The genus Mustela includes the least weasels, polecats, stoats, ferrets and mink. Members of this genus are small, active predators, with long and slender bodies and short legs. The family Mustelidae, or mustelids, (which also includes badgers, otters, and wolverines) is often referred to as the "weasel family". In the UK, the term "weasel" usually refers to the smallest species, the least weasel (M. nivalis),[1] the smallest carnivoran species.[2]

Weasels vary in length from 173 to 217 mm ( to  in),[3] females being smaller than the males, and usually have red or brown upper coats and white bellies; 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 34 to 52 mm ( to 2 in) long.[3]

Weasels feed on small mammals and have from time to time been considered vermin because some species took poultry from farms or rabbits from commercial warrens. They do, on the other hand, eat large numbers of rodents. They can be found all across the world except for Africa (outside Egypt), the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, Australia, the Caribbean, Antarctica, and the neighbouring islands.


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. 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, 10 have "weasel" in their common names. Among those that do not are the stoat, the polecats, the ferret, and the European mink. The American mink and the extinct sea mink were commonly included in this genus as Mustela vison and Mustela macrodon, respectively, but in 1999 they were moved to the genus Neovison.[4]


The following information is according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System.

Image Scientific name Common Name Distribution
Mustela africana Desmarest, 1800 Amazon weasel South America
Mountain Weasel (Mustela altaica).jpg Mustela altaica Pallas, 1811 Mountain weasel Europe and Northern Asia
Southern Asia
Mustela erminea upright2.jpg Mustela erminea Linnaeus, 1758 Stoat or
Short-tailed weasel
Europe and Northern Asia
North America
Southern Asia (non-native)
New Zealand (non-native)
Wild steppe polecat.jpg Mustela eversmannii Lesson, 1827 Steppe polecat Europe and Northern Asia
Southern Asia
Mustela felipei Izor and de la Torre, 1978 Colombian weasel South America
Bridled weasel.jpg Mustela frenata Lichtenstein, 1831 Long-tailed weasel North America
South America
Mustela itatsi on tree.JPG Mustela itatsi Temminck, 1844 Japanese weasel Japan and Sakhalin Island (Russia)
Yellow bellied weasel, Shillong, India.jpg Mustela kathiah Hodgson, 1835 Yellow-bellied weasel Southern Asia
Mink1.jpg Mustela lutreola (Linnaeus, 1761) European mink Europe
Mustela lutreolina Robinson and Thomas, 1917 Indonesian mountain weasel Southern Asia
Mustela nigripes 2.jpg Mustela nigripes (Audubon and Bachman, 1851) Black-footed ferret North America
Mustela nivalis -British Wildlife Centre-4.jpg Mustela nivalis Linnaeus, 1766 Least weasel Europe, North Africa and Northern Asia
North America
Southern Asia (non-native)
New Zealand (non-native)
Mustela nudipes Desmarest, 1822 Malayan weasel Southern Asia
Polecat in denmark.jpg Mustela putorius Linnaeus, 1758 European polecat/
Domestic ferret (ssp. furo)
Europe, North Africa and Northern Asia
New Zealand (ssp. furo; non-native)
Siberian Weasel Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary East Sikkim India 14.05.2016.jpg Mustela sibirica Pallas, 1773 Siberian weasel Europe and Northern Asia
Southern Asia
Mustela strigidorsa.gif Mustela strigidorsa Gray, 1855 Back-striped weasel Southern Asia
Mustela subpalmata at Zamalek by Hatem Moushir.jpg Mustela subpalmata Hemprich & Ehrenberg, 1833 Egyptian weasel Northern Egypt

1 Europe and Northern Asia division excludes China.

Hybrids in this genus include the polecat-ferret hybrid and the polecat-mink hybrid.

Cultural meanings

Weasels have been assigned a variety of cultural meanings.

In Greek culture, a weasel near one's house is a sign of bad luck, even evil, "especially if there is in the household a girl about to be married", since the animal (based on its Greek etymology) was thought to be an unhappy bride who was transformed into a weasel[5] and consequently delights in destroying wedding dresses.[6] In neighboring Macedonia, however, weasels are generally seen as an omen of good fortune.[5][6]

In early-modern Mecklenburg, Germany, amulets from weasels were deemed to have strong magic; the period between 15 August and 8 September was specifically designated for the killing of weasels.[7]:255

In Montagne Noire (France), Ruthenia, and the early medieval culture of the Wends, weasels were not meant to be killed.[7]

In North America, Native Americans (in the region of Chatham County, North Carolina) deemed the weasel to be a bad sign; crossing its path meant a "speedy death".[8] According to Daniel Defoe also, meeting a weasel is a bad omen.[9] In English-speaking areas, weasel can be an insult, noun or verb, for someone regarded as sneaky, conniving or untrustworthy. Similarly, "weasel words" is a critical term for words or phrasing that are vague, misleading or equivocal.

Japanese superstitions

Japanese weasel

In Japan, weasels (?, itachi) were seen as y?kai (causing strange occurrences). According to the encyclopedia Wakan Sansai Zue from the Edo period, a pack of weasels would cause conflagrations, and the cry of a weasel was considered a harbinger of misfortune. In the Niigata Prefecture, the sound of a pack of weasels making a rustle resembled six people hulling rice, so was called the "weasel's six-person mortar", and it was an omen for one's home to decline or flourish. It is said that when people chase after this sound, the sound stops.[10]

They are also said to shapeshift like the fox (kitsune) or tanuki, and the ny?d?-b?zu told about in legends in the T?hoku region and the Ch?bu region are considered weasels in disguise, and they are also said to shapeshift into ?ny?d? and little monks.[10]

In the collection of depictions, the Gazu Hyakki Yagy? by Sekien Toriyama, they were depicted under the title ?, but they were read not as "itachi", but rather as "ten",[11] and "ten" were considered to be weasels that have reached one hundred years of age and became y?kai that possessed supernatural powers.[12] Another theory is that when weasels reach several hundred years of age, they become mujina (Japanese badgers).[13]

In Japanese weasels are called iizuna or izuna () and in the T?hoku Region and Shinshu, it was believed that there were families that were able to use a certain practice to freely use kudagitsune as iizuna-tsukai or kitsune-mochi. It is said that Mount Iizuna, from the Nagano Prefecture, got its name due to how the gods gave people mastery of this technique from there.[14]

According to the folkloristician Mut? Tetsuj?, "They are called izuna in the Senboku District,[* 1]Akita Prefecture, and there are also the ichiko (itako) that use them."[15] Also, in the Kitaakita District, they are called m?suke (), and they are feared as y?kai even more than foxes (kitsune).[15]

In the Ainu language, ermines are called upas-?ironnup or sá?iri, but since least weasels are also called sá?iri, Mashio Chiri surmised that the honorary title poy-sá?iri-kamuy (where poy means "small") refers to least weasels.[16]


Kamaitachi is a phenomenon wherein one who is idle is suddenly injured as if his or her skin were cut by a scythe. In the past, this was thought to be "the deed of an invisible y?kai weasel". An alternate theory, asserts that kamaitachi is derived from kamae Tachi (?, "stance sword"), so were not originally related to weasels at all.[17]

See also


  1. ^ However, in the Senboku District, especially in Obonai village (?), they are called okojo.[15]


  1. ^ Shorter Oxford English dictionary. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. 2007. p. 3804. ISBN 978-0199206872.
  2. ^ Valkenburgh, Blaire Van; Wayne, Robert K. (9 November 2010). "Carnivores". Current Biology. 20 (21): R915-R919. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2010.09.013. ISSN 0960-9822. PMID 21056828.
  3. ^ a b "The Weasel". The Mammal Society. Retrieved 2017.
  4. ^ Abramov, A.V. 1999. A taxonomic review of the genus Mustela (Mammalia, Carnivora). Zoosystematica Rossica, 8(2): 357-364
  5. ^ a b Lawson, John Cuthbert (2012). Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion: A Study in Survivals. Cambridge UP. pp. 327-28. ISBN 978-1-107-67703-6.
  6. ^ a b Abbott, George Frederick (1903). Macedonian folklore. Cambridge UP. pp. 108-109. Retrieved 2012.
  7. ^ a b Thomas, N.W. (September 1900). "Animal Superstitions and Totemism". Folk-lore. 11 (3): 228-67. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1900.9719953. JSTOR 1253113.
  8. ^ Brown, Frank C.; Hand, Wayland D. (1977). Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina. Duke UP. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-8223-0259-9.
  9. ^ Hazlitt, William Carew; Brand, John (1905). Faiths and folklore: a dictionary of national beliefs, superstitions and popular customs, past and current, with their classical and foreign analogues, described and illustrated. Reeves and Turner. p. 622. Retrieved 2012.
  10. ^ a b 200036ISBN 978-4-6203-1428-0?
  11. ^ ? ? 199250ISBN 978-4-336-03386-4?
  12. ^ ? New sight mook1999123ISBN 978-4-05-602048-9?
  13. ^ 199730ISBN 978-4-88317-283-2?
  14. ^ ? ?4(1991?)
  15. ^ a b c , (1940), "", , 45: 41-42, ()....?()?
  16. ^ , (Chiri, Mashiho) (30 March 1959), "? (On the names of the mammals of the Ainu language)" (PDF), ? = the Annual Reports on Cultural Science: 141, ISSN 0437-6668
  17. ^ (2005). ? ?. . . p. 104. ISBN 978-4-7959-1955-6.

Further reading

External links

  • The dictionary definition of weasel at Wiktionary
  • Media related to Mustela at Wikimedia Commons
  • Data related to Mustela at Wikispecies

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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