Long-Tailed Weasel

Maryland Mammals

Long-Tailed Weasel
(Mustela frenata)

Description & Range:

Long-tailed weasels are relatively small animals, with slender and elongated bodies. Body sizes range from 11 to 17 inches long. Males tend to be significantly larger than females. The overall color of long-tailed weasels is brown with a yellowish white neck and underside. In the Northern United States, Long-tailed weasels molt in the fall and their fur becomes totally white and remains that color until they molt again in the spring and it returns to brown. In the mid-Atlantic region (including Maryland) and farther south they remain brown throughout the year.

Long-tailed weasels are relatively common and can be found throughout Maryland and much of the United States.

Long-tailed weasel by Keith and Kasia Moore, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Long-tailed weasel by Keith and Kasia Moore, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Habitat:

Long-tailed weasel can live in a fairly broad range of habitat types. In Maryland marshland, woodlands, intermittent grasslands and rocky outcrops are all long-tailed weasel habitats. The long-tailed weasel also inhabits open areas covered with brush or tall grass near water. Weasels live in dens made from hollow logs, tree stumps, among rock piles or in burrows that it has taken over by killing the former occupants.

Diet:

Weasels feed extensively on mice and other small mammals, but weasels will also eat birds, rabbits and amphibians when available. When hunting, it follows a zigzag pattern, moving from burrow to burrow. Weasels are valuable in controlling populations of rodents, including rats.

Weasel with mouse prey by Bryant Olsen, Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
Weasel with mouse prey by Bryant Olsen, Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Reproduction:

The long-tailed weasel breeds in July and August. The gestation period may cover 205 to 337 (average 279) days. The newborn young are blind, furless, about 2.5 inches long, and weigh less than a tenth of an ounce. They soon develop a soft, white fur which is replaced in three weeks by adult fur.

Weasel with baby by Wayne Watson USFWS Mountain-Prairie Flickr CC BY 2.0
Weasel with baby by Wayne Watson USFWS Mountain-Prairie Flickr CC BY 2.0

Sounds:

The long-tailed weasel uses a variety of calls such as screeches and squeals, rapid trills, and purrs when content. During the mating season, females give a reedy, twittering call.

Behavior:

Long-tailed weasels quite effectively can swim and climb. They are active throughout the year and can be found hunting rodents during the day and at night. Like other weasels, the long-tailed runs by a series of bounds, with its back humped at each bound and its tail trailing backward.

Management:

Annual hunting and trapping seasons for long-tailed weasels have been established in Maryland. Long-tailed weasels are managed as furbearers. To learn more about furbearer management, please click here.

Did you Know?

Long-tailed weasels are the largest weasel of the weasel family and often will attack prey nearly two times larger. The long-tailed weasel uses a variety of vocalizations. It may screech and squeal, utter a rapid trill and purr when content.