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Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis)

Diputación de Málaga
Comadreja baja ARL

Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis)

Reproduction Zeal Topping Hibernation
Animal Life > Mammals


It is a small carnivore (head-body length 17 to 23 cm), with an elongated body, short legs and a long tail (3 to 17 cm). It has a flattened head, with small round ears, and an elongated neck. It has a short snout and small eyes. The dorsal coat is light brown or cream; the belly (or bib) is white. The tail is brown with a black tip. It moves very nervously. Males are slightly bigger than females.

Where does it live?

This species adapts to all types of environments but shows preference for low scrub areas and rocky outcrops, stone walls and not very wet but meadows with water nearby. We can also find it in hedges and boundaries, firewood stocks and rural housing environments especially complying with the requirement that there must be available food. It avoids closed forests and waterlogged areas.

How does it live?

This animal is elusive and difficult to observe, with both nocturnal and diurnal habits but solitary. It moves very fast and is silent and agile. It can climb very easily. It is trained to enter and exit holes it explores to find some prey. It feeds on small insectivorous animals, rodents, insects, earthworms, fruits, amphibians and reptiles. It is also able to get larger prey, such as rabbits, pigeons or other birds, including poultry. Its territory ranges from 10 to 35 hectares. Normally, the male's territory includes one of several females. Males capture larger prey than females in open air. Females usually hunt by entering burrows. It makes lairs in tree holes or in stone walls during summer and in grottos or abandoned building hollows in winter.

How does it reproduce?

Weasels go into heat especially in spring, although they can be rutting almost all year. During the rutting period, males can be very territorial and aggressive. It is the only time of the year they leave their solitude. Births can occur almost all year round, although offspring are usually born from May to June. They can have up to three births, usually two. From 4 to 8 offspring are born per litter; they are sexually active when they are three months. Weasels life expectancy is less than a year.

Where can we see it in Málaga?

This species is almost present in the whole province, although it is neither abundant, common, nor easy to observe. We can find it on almost every stage of the Great Path (Gran Senda).

Curious facts

Weasels have a reputation for being ferocious and aggressive, drinking their prey's blood. That is actually true. When they hunt they do it quickly, silently and lethally. They approach their prey in silence and immobilize it by clinging to them with their legs and their sharp nails. With a quick bite at the nape they kill it almost by shock. That is when they drink some of their blood, a first pleasure moment before dragging it to a safe place to devour it. A single weasel can kill more than 500 mice per year, so its ferocity is a good ally for humans. Its high metabolic rate forces it to hunt all day to compensate for its high energy expenditure. Here is the consequence for being so nervous and a short lifespan: they are forced to live fast. That is why they dare to kill prey up to 15 times larger than them.

Similar species

It is an unmistakable species. Although it is very similar to the marten, its smaller size prevents confusion. Moreover, martens do not have a black tail end.

Routes where it can be observed

More information