Ermine (or Stoat)

The ermine, which is also known as a stoat or a short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea) is a member of the family which also includes badgers, otters, ferrets, wolverines and other carnivorous mammals.  This animal is referred to as an ermine during the winter when its fur is pure white with a black tipped tail, during summer months when it is a brownish color, they are commonly called stoats or weasels. Stoats are carnivorous, with rodents being their primary food source.

Stoats are found throughout the northern hemisphere, with humans most often using them as a source of decorative fur. Ermine fur has long been seen as a symbol of royal and nobility and is still a part of the cloaks worn by British nobles, although the fur is now often fake. In art, an ermine appears in Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine.” Today, the ermine are a species of least concern, and have in fact been named to a list of the 100 Most Dangerous Invasive Species due to the consequences of their introduction in New Zealand.


Interesting facts about the stoat or ermine:

  • The name “stoat” comes from the Dutch word for “naughty.”
  • Stoats were introduced in New Zealand to combat rodent populations, but instead have devastated local bird populations.
  • Similar to skunks, stoats have a scent gland which they will spray when they feel threatened.
  • Unlike most other animals, stoats tend to be smaller in colder climates, generally animals get bigger in colder climates.
  • Male and female stoats are known as “jacks” and “jills.”