Least weasels are the smallest carnivorous predator in the world and have a typical weasel body shape, with a long, tubular body, short limbs and a short tail that is less than a quarter of their body length. Their skull is long and flat, with short, round ears, long whiskers and large, dark eyes. Their white paws are five-toed with non-retractile claws at the end of each of the five toes. Least weasels have a total of 34 teeth. Their coat color changes seasonally in northern populations, but not in southern populations. In the winter, their coat is pure white, but always lacks the black tail tip seen in two similar species: ermines, or stoats, and long-tailed weasels. In summer, their coat turns rusty-chocolate brown on their back and stays white on their belly.
Length: 114-260 mm
Weight: 29-250 g
Except for the breeding season, Least weasels are solitary. They are territorial animals and form gender-based dominance hierarchies, with older males being dominant over juvenile males and females. Least weasels need to eat very regularly so that they do not starve to death, and often they are found foraging at any time, day or night. They commonly use food caching, as they often kill prey bigger than themselves, but only consume a few grams of meat for each meal. Caches are hidden around the den entrance, and latrine sites are as well. An individual scent-marks around a den site with secretions from its anal glands. When startled or cornered, these glands release a bad-smelling fluid that will deter an antagonist. Least weasels also sometimes perform a “weasel war dance”, consisting of a series of twists and leaps, often accompanied by noises like barks, an arched back, stiff limbs, and erection of their caudal and dorsal hairs. Weasels of any age perform the dance, though it is more common in the younger ones, especially kits when playing with their siblings.
Least weasels are adaptable and able to thrive in a multitude of habitats. They are found in prairie grasslands, coniferous and deciduous forests, open tundra, bushy taiga, and rainforests that undergo a dry season in the summer months. Least weasels are comfortable above and below ground, maneuvering easily through both leaf litter, subterranean, and subnivean tunnels. Weasels have dens of different substrates in different habitats but do not burrow or dig dens; they use the abandoned dens from prey or other fossorial species. Weasels only temporarily reside in their dens, and many dens can be found in a single least weasel’s territory. Weasels commonly choose dens at the base of trees in habitats with tree stands, such as coniferous, deciduous or mixed forests. When trees are not available, weasels will reside in brush or log piles, and tall grass patches, such as those found in prairie habitats or on agricultural lands. The vegetation present in the habitat is not as important as the amount of the vegetation available to use as cover for ambush hunting, as having enough cover is vital for a successful hunt.
Methods of hunting permitted for use:
- using hunting dogs
- ambush hunting,
- trapping (automatic trap)
Permitted mining tools:
Hunting fire smooth-bore long-barreled arms, hunting firearm with a rifled barrel of caliber no more than 8 mm and a seating distance not more than 51 mm (including a caliber of 5.6 mm for a rim-fire cartridge); hunting firearm combined weapons (smooth-bore and rifted gun), including with rebarreling and auxiliary rifled barrels of 5.6 mm caliber for rim-fire cartridge; traps (automatic traps), including deadfalls of various types, mole traps, cherkans (wooden traps for animals living in lodges), gin traps, snares, and other analogues of automatic traps, as well as nets, cages, live traps and etc; cold bladed hunting weapon.
It is allowed to use a hunting pneumatic weapon with a muzzle energy of no more than 25 J for taking a chipmunk, ground squirrel, ground squirrel, hamster, water vole. Hunting for a lynx, badger, wolverine, hare and beaver using a hunting firearm with a rifled barrel of 5.6 mm caliber for a rim-fire cartridge is not performed.
Weasels have a very soft and dense fur, and although these animals are quite small, they are commonly trapped as furbearers. Northern species of weasels develop a thick, white coat in the wintertime, and these especially valuable furs are known as ermine. Ermine is mostly used as a fine trim for coats and robes, or to make neck-pieces and stoles.