||Diet: Small mammals
24 - 29 cm (9 1/2 - 11 1/2 in), tail: 8 - 12 cm (3 - 4 3/4 in)
Europe, Asia, Northern U.S.A., Greenland; introduced in New Zealand
ermine is a highly skilled predator. It kills by delivering a powerful
and accurate bite to the back of the prey's neck. Rodents and rabbits are
the ermine's main diet, but it will also kill and eat other mammals --
including some bigger than itself -- as well as birds, eggs, fish and insects.
At the beginning of winter, in the northern part of its range, the ermine
loses its dark fur and grows a pure white coat, only the black tail tip
remaining. This white winter pelt is prized by the fur trade. Ermines produce
a litter of 3 to 7 young in April or May. The male assists in caring for
and feeding the young, which are helpless at birth. Their eyes do not open
until they are about 3 weeks old, but at 7 weeks young males are already
larger than their mother. There are 15 species of Mustela, including the
minks now farmed for their dense fur.