I have long been fascinated with weasels, but I only saw my first Long-Tailed Weasel this past summer. I did see two weasels this past winter, but I only saw enough of a glimpse to identify them as weasels, not the species. COVID tensions had grown after a busy 4th of July and I worked retail. To shed the basic disrespect of rude customers, my partner and I made a habit of going to remote, open, forest service or BLM land to camp for our weekends. We need time to decompress and take care of our mental health by looking at natural landscapes.
Mustela frenata, or the Long-Tailed Weasel has a very curious nature. My partner and I had set up some hammocks in a free campsite on Forest Service land near an ice cold creek. We took naps, read, went on small hiking adventures, and dreamed up how we would build our new van.
As we lounged in our hammocks, suddenly, a blur of motion came running out of the nearby shrubs, perked up, then darted back into the bush. After that, I made sure I had the camera handy and in position to try to capture the creature we thought was a type of weasel. Then, we waited and listened.
Eventually, the weasel reappeared after about ten minutes. This time, we were ready. I quickly snapped several photos. Since I had the zoom on the camera, I could clearly see the longer tail. The Long-Tailed Weasel moved fast. It leapt and bound spastically all over the place. Finally it darted back into its save haven of a large shrub.
After that, the Long-Tailed Weasel explored us several more times. Sometimes, it darted out fast and ran around our hammocks. Other times, it crept up slower out of the shrub, popping its head up, then ducking down and creeping closer.
Let’s check out some facts below and the nature journal spread!
Long-Tailed Weasel General Characteristics:
- 11 to 18 inches with tail
- Long, lean body
- In summer, brown upper body with a creamy white belly which extends down part of legs
- In winter, turns completely white except for a small black tail tip
- Similar to the short-tailed weasel or ermine, but longer in body and tail
- Weighs only 5-11 ounces
- Curious and exploratory
- Almost any area near water – rivers, streams, creeks, shorelines
- Generally avoids dense forests
- Likes alpine areas and open spaces
- Don’t migrate, wide range
- Most of Continental US, parts of Canada, most of Central America, and in parts of Northern South America
Long-Tailed Weasel in the Traveling Nature Journal:
I was stoked to make this spread. The polaroid photo of the Long-Tailed Weasel made my week better. When it stood up on its hind legs and watched me as I watched it, my heart filled with joy. Plus, I knew we would have no mouse problems that night sine the Long-Tailed Weasel would gladly hunt them for us!
After I positioned the photo, I went to sketch the Long-Tailed Weasel from another photo I took. I used the only photo that truly captured the length of the tail. However, when I began, I realized that I had made the sketch larger than I normally did and it would have in order to position its head on the same page. Luckily, I had not written the text in yet and could work around this. In the future, I think I will try to sketch first, just in case I want to have the sketch stretch across both pages.
Since I don’t have a favorite mammals book yet, I went to the local library in Vail, Colorado and checked out The Guide to Colorado Mammals by Mary Taylor Young and dug into some fascinating information. I checked this guide out of the library three separate times this past summer. Young really broke down the differences between a Long-Tailed Weasel and a Short-Tailed Weasel (Ermine) much better than I could find online. Because she focused only on what mammals live in Colorado, it allows her to provide more information. I would definitely recommend this guide in Colorado and it would largely apply to many mammals in Wyoming and Montana as well.
Later this summer, I had another encounter with an even more curious Long-Tailed Weasel at a higher elevation. Stay tuned for a second journal spread on it!