Also known as a Stoat and the Short-Tailed Weasel, the Ermine is a small predator which looks similar to a domesticated ferret. Like the ferret, the Ermine has a long, slender body, a triangular-shaped head, and short legs and tail. They can vary in color from a yellow-tan to a dark brown along the head, back and tops of the legs. The neck and belly are usually white or buff in color. Some ermine populations will grow a white winter coat if they reside in snowy areas, although this is not the case for most Oregon populations. The tip of the tail is black in all varieties of the animal. A keen hunter, the Ermine eats a variety of mammals, birds, insects and amphibians.
This animal can reproduce very quickly. Male Ermines will generally establish a territory which includes smaller enclaves held by females. The male will then defend the larger area – and all the females it encompasses – from others of its species. During breeding season, the male may father multiple litters and plays no role in the rearing the kits. Female Ermines become sexually mature within three weeks of being born and in many cases may be pregnant with their first litter before they’re even weaned.
In some parts of the world where the Ermine was either intentionally or accidentally introduced, the animal has had a devastating effect on native species, especially birds. In these areas they are considered an invasive or nuisance animal. In some parts of the world, especially Russia, Ermine are harvested for their fur which is used to trim coats, hats and make various fashion accessories.
The Ermine has a huge range, extending across Europe and Asia and throughout North American. In the Pacific Northwest, they are found from Alaska to northern California. Most Oregon populations are located west of the Cascade Mountain range with some isolated communities in the eastern part of the state. The animal’s prevalence across the world is due largely to its ability to adapt to different living conditions. It can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, woodlands, tundra and marshes.