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Species Spied: Stoat

Overview

Species: Stoat

Scientific Name: Mustela erminea

Family: Mustelidae (otters, weasels, badgers)

During the spring and summer, stoats are a reddish brown colour and white underneath. They are one of the only British mammals that has an ‘ermine’ stage - meaning they turn white in the winter but retain the black tip on the tail.  This trait is more commonly seen in more northernly individuals.

The erminea in their latin name relates to this winter stage, while the mustela (genus) points to them being members of the mustelid family, to which badgers and otters also belong.

Posts with stoats...

Identification & behaviour

How to identify

Stoats are very similar to weasels but they are larger; their body is 24-31cm long and their tail is an additional 9-14cm. They also have a distinctive black tipped tail - the best way to tell the two animals apart, other than the size difference.

Behaviours you may see

Stoats are carnivores and their favourite prey are rabbits but they may also feed on birds and other small mammals - watch it here.

They move in a random zig-zag pattern when hunting and you may see them bouncing erratically in a garden or field - it is thought that this behaviour serves to confuse their prey.

Camera trap tips

Where to find stoats

Stoats are found throughout the UK and are adaptable to a number of habitats so may be found in woodland, farmland and marsh. You are unlikely to see them out in the open; they tend to move along hedgerows, walls and ditches to avoid detection by predators such as birds of prey and larger carnivores.

The way they move through habitats means its incredibly difficult to predict when you may capture a stoat (or weasel) on your camera trap - it's mainly down to luck! Field boundaries are good places to try, and areas where rabbits are common. That might also mean you capture a lot of rabbits however...!

Staking out small tunnels and holes may provide success, but you will likely need to adapt your camera trap slightly by dulling the infrared LEDs and changing the focal range.

Read more about why stoats and weasels are so hard to capture on camera trap.

Settings & timers

Stoats may be captured at any time so ensure your camera trap is on throughout the day and night. Their relatively small size and quick movement means you ideally need a camera with a fast trigger speed and good detection capabilities.

Stoats can also be tempted in front of camera traps with bait - tying a raw chicken leg to some string and anchoring it to something is a good technique!

Following trails...

Staot footprints (spoor) show five toes and are very similar to weasel tracks except that they are larger (2cm wide, 2 cm long). Their droppings (scat) are long with twisted ends and often contain bone and fur. The droppings are larger (5 cm long, 0.5cm wide) than weasel droppings.

Videos

References and more information:

Stoat – The Mammal Society