Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Weasel
Nature Bulletin No. 137    January 10, 1948
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation

The weasel is a close relative of the mink but is smaller and lives entirely on land. It, too, has musk glands that can eject a powerful disagreeable odor. Summer and winter, it is a tireless fearless hunter that kills not only for food but also, apparently, for pleasure. A weasel hag been known to kill all of the 40 chickens in a hen-house, drinking only the blood of a few.

Hunting at night, and frequently in day time, they prey on mice, rabbits, chipmunks, ground-squirrels, gophers and ground-nesting birds. They also eat grasshoppers, crickets, frogs, and even earthworms. They can climb trees after white-footed mice and squirrels, and a weasel has been known to chase a squirrel through the trees, from branch to branch, until it got him. Just the other day, a group of men standing in a farmyard saw a rabbit, closely pursued by a weasel, come running and zigzagging toward them. Right at their feet, the weasel seized the rabbit at the back of its head, hugging the body with his fore legs and scratching wildly at the belly with his hind legs. The men yelled and kicked at the weasel until it ran off a few yards, where it stopped, looked back hungrily, and then bounded away.

Actually, this fierce little animal is beneficial to the farmer because it destroys great numbers of mice, rats, ground-squirrels and gophers. It has a long slender body, short legs, a long neck, and a small narrow triangular head with low rounded ears and bulging jaw muscles. The upper parts are dark brown, the under parts are whitish, usually tinged with yellow; and the slightly bushy tail has a black tip. In northern regions the weasel turns white in winter, except for the black tip of the tail. Here, and farther south, the color rarely changes. Trapped in winter, the fur of northern weasels is sold as "ermine", for many years forbidden to be worn except by royalty. The true ermine is a weasel of northern Europe and Asia.

Weasels remain paired, perhaps for life, and are devoted to their young, from 4 to 8 in number, born each spring. Blind and helpless at birth, they are soon able to romp and play and hunt with their parents. The home life of the weasel contrasts curiously with its fierce nature.

It can twist and strike like a snake. Hence the expression: "weasel words".

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