Updated: May 5, 2020
By Helen Williams
Living all around us this ruthless killer, with climbing abilities that would give spider man a run for his money is seldom seen. Distributed around the world and in the UK (except for Ireland and the Isle of Man). This species is found in habitats that includes forest, sand dunes, gardens and sometimes within the built environment.
With the sharpest of teeth this awesome predator will think nothing of tackling prey twice or three times its size.
A diet consisting mostly of voles and mice but also rats, frogs, chickens and eggs; this predator is an opportunist – sneaky, taking what it can, when it can. Taking up residence in many farms and hedgerow it’s persecuted by farmers and small animal keepers as with stealth and its resourcefulness all it takes is a quick bite to the back of neck to ensure death of its prey - it has the ability to snatch poultry, eggs and small mammals in a flash. It’s a fraction of the size of the cunning fox who’s equally persecuted for similar behaviour.
With an average size of 20-27cm for males, with slightly smaller females; it can cover distances of more than a mile and a half in search of food in one hunting session. This veracious hunter needs to eat a third of its body weight daily to stay alive.
Most of us hardly ever see them anymore, much like hedgehogs and badgers only glimpsing them on roads often after their demise. This creature is the UK’s smallest carnivore and whilst currently regarded as “Least Concern” on the IUCN red list register due to its wide distribution, the rate of the UK’s hedgerow decline causing vital habitat loss and continued persecution from farmers and use of poisoning has undoubtedly seen a vast reduction in numbers across the UK.
This tiny carnivore still has its place, a vital one delivering highly important ecosystem services. These include rodent population control in a country where fast food and general waste has seen an exponential growth. Protecting habitats, raising awareness for farmers and poultry keepers alike may assist in keeping this species thriving for future generations. Now is the time for action before they are all but gone.
For me, every time I see one in the wild I am amazed, my heart is warmed, nature is thriving, it doesn’t need to be the majestic tiger or the king of the jungle to impress me. Look closer next time you are in the woods, not for lions, and tigers and bears but for the tiny Mustela nivalis (Least Weasel) popping his head out here and there as it goes about its business.
Weasel- Brent Jones from Unsplash
Frog- Warlen G Vasco from Unsplash
Rat- Brett Jordan from Unsplash