Chordates •

Least weasel

(Mustela nivalis)



The least weasel (Mustela nivalis), little weasel, common weasel, or simply weasel is the smallest member of the genus Mustela, family Mustelidae and order Carnivora. It is native to Eurasia, North America and North Africa, and has been introduced to New Zealand, Malta, Crete, the Azores, and São Tomé. It is classified as least concern by the IUCN, due to its wide distribution and large population throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The least weasel varies greatly in size over its range. The body is slender and elongated, and the legs and tail are relatively short. The colour varies geographically, as does the pelage type and length of tail. The dorsal surface, flanks, limbs and tail of the animal are usually some shade of brown while the underparts are white. The line delineating the boundary between the two colours is usually straight. At high altitudes and in the northern part of its range, the coat becomes pure white in winter. Eighteen subspecies are recognised. The least weasel has a thin, greatly elongated and extremely flexible body with a small, yet elongated, blunt-muzzled head which is no thicker than the neck. The eyes are small in relation to their head size and are bulging and dark colored. The legs and tail are relatively short, the latter constituting less than half the body length. The feet have sharp, dark-coloured claws, and the soles are heavily haired. The skull, especially that of the small rixosa group, has an infantile appearance when compared with that of other members of the genus Mustela (in particular, the stoat and kolonok). This is expressed in the relatively large size of the cranium and shortened facial region. The skull is, overall, similar to that of the stoat, but smaller, though the skulls of large male weasels tend to overlap in size with those of small female stoats. There are usually four pairs of nipples but these are only visible in females. The least weasel has a circumboreal, Holarctic distribution, encompassing much of Europe and North Africa, Asia and parts of northern North America, where it occurs mainly in places where the stoat is not found. It has been introduced in New Zealand, Malta, Crete, the Azore Islands and also São Tomé off West Africa. It is found throughout Europe (but not Ireland) and on many islands, including the Azores, Great Britain, and all major Mediterranean islands. It also occurs on Honshu and Hokkaido Islands in Japan and on Kunashir, Iturup, and Sakhalin Islands in Russia.

Taxonomic tree:

Kingdom: Animalia
Class: Mammalia
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