Don’t let the adorable face and the small size fool you, sleek and furry ermines are some of the fiercest fighters around. Ermines do just fine in harsh climates, as their coats allow them to survive in the Arctic, as well as forests, mountains, fields and farms – in fact, they live in just about any northern part of Europe, Asia and North America. They’re amazing hunters and they happen to look fabulous while doing it.
Not surprisingly since it lives in so many places, the ermine goes by many names. They’re known as short-tailed weasels – though they have pretty good-sized tails – or also stoats. Often the name ermine is only used when they have their white winter coats.
Like many creatures that live in snowy places, the ermine has one look for winter and another for summer. In warmer months they have a brown coat with white paws, neck and belly, then in the winter the ermine’s silky fur is white to match the snow, all except for a black tip on the end of their tail.
Ermines aren’t choosy about what they eat. Moving incredibly quickly, they catch lots of mice, but aren’t afraid to go after animals larger than themselves. Ermines don’t build their own dens, they move into the homes of mice or rabbits, which seems a bit rude. They don’t even like other ermines very much, and spend much of their time on their own.
Ermines have ways of making sure they’re left alone and one of those is a powerful stink. Just like a skunk, when scared or angry, an ermine can release a very nasty smell. Ermines also mark their territory with smells as a warning to other ermines to go away.
European settlers in the 1800s had a not so great idea to bring rabbits to New Zealand. Since rabbits had no natural predators there, they quickly spread all over the countryside, eating pretty much every plant they could find. To deal with the rabbits someone then had the even worse idea to bring over ermines. Ermines like to eat rabbits, but they quickly decided they loved eating New Zealand’s birds even more, causing many local birds to become endangered. What’s more, ermines are really hard to get rid of. Even now, after more than a hundred years, New Zealand is still trying to figure out ways control the ermines and protect their birds.
Fortunately, in the northern part of the world, ermines’ scrappy, and very hungry, natures are kept in check by the climates they’re best suited to.