Mustela erminea

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The stoat, also known as the short-tailed weasel, is a predatory species of mammal in the same family as the marten. It has a long body with small legs, an elongated neck and a small head. Its agile body is well suited to ferreting out prey from their shelters as well as for hiding from predators. The stoat primarily hunts small mammals, such as mice and shrews, and less commonly birds, insects and reptiles. It seeks out its prey with the help of its well attuned sense of smell and hearing, creeping up to it as close as possible only to pounce at the last moment and, using its incredibly strong jaw muscles, sink a deadly bite. A stoat can only consume up to 28g of food at any one time, about the size of a large house mouse. Due to its rapid metabolism, however, it needs to eat up to ten times a day. It will usually catch more prey than it actually requires, which it then stores as a food source. The stoat’s summer fur is dark brown on top with a white belly. The winter moult begins from mid-October. Within about two months the entire coat of fur will be white except for the dark, black tip of the tail. The brown coat will moult again in spring. In warmer regions without snowfall, the stoat retains this brown coat throughout the year, whereas stoats inhabiting more northerly regions are exclusively white. The white winter fur, considered chaste and pure, has been used historically on the robes of high-ranking clergy and aristocracy. The winter stoat's pelt, also known as ermine, show a contrast of black spots (the black-tipped tails) against a pure white background. In heraldry, these are known as "ermine spots" and are used to line ornate garments, such as coronation robes and crowns, and, as such, they are highly-regarded status symbols.

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