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How to tell the difference between a weasel and a stoat

Photograph: British Stoat
Photograph: British Stoat
Photograph: British Weasel
Photograph: British Weasel

There is a saying that ‘a weasel is weasel-ey recognised and a stoat is stoat-ally different’, but it only serves to confirm how difficult it is to tell the two species apart.

These little brown mustelids are both fast and ferocious, with sinuous bodies and short legs. But there are a few key indicators to look for if you see a tiny, slim brown mammal slip through the undergrowth at speed.

Black tip to the tail: The most important of these is that stoat’s tails have a bristly black tip whereas the weasel’s tail is much shorter and light brown all the way to its tip.

Does Size Matter: Stoats are always bigger than weasels. In simple terms, think of a weasel as a long sausage, whereas a stoat is more like a cucumber. There is quite a difference between the males and females of each species. A female weasel is truly tiny weighing just 65g whilst a male stoat is just over five and a half times heavier at 360g.

White in winter: Stoats are the only one of the two that has the ability to turn white in winter. Although not all stoats turn white, it’s down to genetics – so just because it is winter don’t dismiss a brown furred stoat as a weasel, use the guidelines above.

Photograph: British Stoat in Ermine
Photograph: British Stoat in Ermine

 

Read more:


Stoats & Weasels – Much maligned in History


Mustelids and Me: The wonderful world of Weasels and Stoats as featured in BBC Countryfile Magazine June 2018


Watch my weasel and stoat videos on Youtube


 

 

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2 comments on How to tell the difference between a weasel and a stoat

  1. Just a quibble, but there are two species of weasels in North America that do turn white in the winter, the long-tailed weasel and the least weasel. In the northern part of its range and at high altitudes, the least weasel (which is termed weasel in England), changes colour in the winter, the coat becoming pure white and exhibiting a few black hairs in rare circumstances.

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