Environment | ANIMAL TRACKER

Japanese weasel

by Rowan Hooper

* Japanese name: Nihon itachi
* Scientific name: Mustela itatsi
* Description: Japanese weasels are fairly small mammals in the mustelid family (a large family of animals that includes otters, badgers, stoats, polecats, martens and skunks). Males are 29-37 cm long, females 20-26 cm. The fur is an orange-brown color. Sometimes there is a darker brown patch on the nose; the throat fur is usually white.
* Where to find them: Originally distributed in woods, farmland, brushy areas and mountainous regions from Honshu to Kyushu, Japanese weasels can also be found in Hokkaido now. The animal likes water, and may be seen on the shore of rivers and streams. If there is mud, look for footprints. In the water, this weasel resembles a small otter.
* Food: Weasels are dedicated carnivores, skilful, agile hunters with sharp, needlelike teeth. Common prey items include mice, insects, fish and frogs. Food items may sometimes be stored in caches. Weasels like to take prey such as mice by the neck, and pierce the throat and brain. The scientific name means “to carry off mice.” Birds of prey, foxes, martens and even domestic cats will kill weasels, so they are extremely cautious animals, only moving into the open with great care. They start easily and will quickly vanish if disturbed. Weasels are inquisitive and will investigate holes and crannies in rocks, trees and undergrowth, searching for mouse runways. They use their sensitive nose and ears to locate prey.
* Special features: Like skunks, weasels produce a smelly secretion from an anal gland. The scent is not as offensive to humans as a skunk’s, but it is designed to repel predators. Weasels live in dens in hollow logs and tree stumps, lining their hole with feathers or grasses. Weasels become sexually mature before they are a year old and have litters of 4-5 young, which are cared for by both parents. Despite their antipredator weapon, weasels are clean animals and use a special latrine area for defecation.