The large, heavy snowflakes were hypnotizing as they fell silently among the skeletons of agrimony and ironweed. Almost losing my balance and slipping into the freezing water, I snapped back to the business of hopping awkwardly between snow-covered grassy hummocks in the frozen marsh.
Pausing to pull on my gloves, I
craned my neck as a small flock of
waxwings bobbed overhead,
keening in the wind. A small
movement in the grass ahead; I froze on the spot as I caught a flicker of brown in the brush. A longtailed
The alert little long-tailed weasel, Mustela frenata, belonged to the Mustelidae, the bold family that includes skunks, badgers, wolverines, mink, otter and ferrets. The beguiling big-eyed gaze of M. frenata is deceptive, for it is indeed a predator; the kind of predator that demands notice and respect for its efficient hunting methods and brassy behavior.
My ramble brought me through field
and marsh; typical habitat for longtailed
Each time I've been fortunate
enough to spot a weasel, they've
not seemed at all concerned with
my presence, an almost unsettling
clue to their confidence and
intelligence. That unerring, wideeyed
gaze is only initially cute, until
you realize their forward facing eyes
are typical of a predator. Their small
Mustela frenata live throughout the
United States and parts of Canada,
a range that tests their ability to
adapt to a wide variety of extremes.
Their frail build, however, is
deceptive, according to Bernd
Heinrich, author of Winter World. "They must contend with intense
cold throughout their range, yet
The weasel I had seen fit quite
nicely among the close trunks of
dogwood as it searched for prey.
These bold predators consume a
wide variety in summer: birds,
eggs, insects, rodents and other
small mammals. In winter, their diet
It is their narrow, serpentine build
that makes long-tailed weasels
excellently designed as predators.
Their long, skinny body enables
them to follow small mammals and
quickly enter their tunnels and
burrows. Weasels are opportunistic.
They rarely fashion a den or nest of
their own; they simply use the living
quarters of their victims to eat, rest and even cache food. Much of their
time is spent eating and resting in
others' quarters before again setting