What is the Difference Between a Stoat and a Weasel?


Can you tell the difference between a stoat (left) or a weasel (right)

Stoats and weasels are closely related, especially in terms of appearance. This is the reason why most people usually confuse them for each other.  I came up with this guide to show the differences between stoats and weasels.

Stoats are longer (12 in) than a weasel (8.5 in).  Stoats generally have a dark colored tip to their longer tail.  Stoats are more active at night, whereas the weasel will more likely be seen during the day.

What is the Difference Between a Stoat and a Weasel?

Although the two mammals appear to be closely related, there are several differences. These differences are in their appearance and behavior. 

Physical Appearance

Stoats and weasels are not the same sizes or weight. Stoats are longer and heavier than a weasel. 

The two animals have a close resemblance in their coat color, and also in the size of the tail. However, the stoat is slightly different because they generally have a dark-coloured tip on the tail. One other difference is that the weasel has a longer tail than a stoat. 

Reproductive Behavior

These two animals share the same breeding season, but they are not the same in regards to their reproductive behavior. 

Stoats and weasels are both likely to mate between the months of April and July. The main difference between the two is in their gestation period. 

Female stoats are expected to carry their young ones for the better part of the year, and the pregnancy can last up to 280 days.  

Weasels have a gestation period of slightly above a month. They usually carry their young ones up to 37 days. 

The two mammals also reach their sexual maturity at different times. Weasels reach their sexual maturity faster than stoats. The weasel becomes sexually active by four months, which is different from female and male stoats. The male stoat takes longer, at the age of eleven months. Female stoats are already fertile by the time they are just three to four weeks old. 

At the age of three to four weeks, although they can become pregnant, female stoats are still blind and hairless. They become pregnant before they have even reached the weaning age.

General Behavior

The two mammals exhibit different behaviors. Weasels are active during both the day and night. It is at these times that they will go hunting. A stoat is much more active during the night, but in summer may go out during the day.

Weasels tend to hunt during the day while stoats will hunt during dusk, dawn, or night.

Stoats may be active during the entire day, but they usually sleep for three to five hours.

Life Expectancy

Weasels have a short lifespan compared to stoats. Weasels have an average lifespan of three years while stoats can live up to ten years. These times are based on life in the wild. 

Hunting Skills

Weasels and stoats hunt differently, primarily because of their size. The stoat is larger and more likely to prey on larger mammals. 

Weasels are likely to hunt mammals their size or smaller.  Stoats are also considered to be vermin. When they live close to farms, they kill and eat poultry, eggs and rabbits. 

Habitat and Territory

The two mammals live in almost similar habitats. They both prefer open woods, grasslands close to water sources, or hedgerows. 

They are also closely related in their territoriality. In both mammals, the males have larger territories surrounded by smaller female territories. Males in both species mark their territories using scent glands, feces and urine. 

Another similar characteristic in both animals is their habit of taking over abandoned burrows. They also prefer to live near humans.  

In North America, stoats and weasels are found in different regions. The stoat has a liking for colder areas such as tundra and those in the northern latitudes. Weasels can be found in these areas, but also down as far as Mexico and South America.

Health Problems

The two species face different health problems. Stoats usually have to deal with tuberculosis, whereas weasels do not.  

The stoat is also known to develop canine distemper and mange, which is not the case with weasels. 

What is a Stoat? 

The stoat is a mammal of the genus Mustelid, which belongs to the family Mustelidae.  They can be found in North America. Stoats are mammals and give birth to live young like other mammals. They are closely related to weasels, which makes people confuse the two small animals. 

The stoat crossed to North America from Eurasia over 500,000 years ago. By this time, they had assimilated the long-tailed weasels, making them extinct.

Stoats are also known as ermines when they assume their winter coat. Stoats can grow up to 30 cm (12 inches) long. They diet is made up of many different foods, including bird eggs and other small animals. 

They are considered to be quite strong regardless of their small body and can kill animals larger than them. 

Stoats are very cautious animals and tend to store food for later seasons. When hunting animals, they usually target the neck of their prey, biting it at the place where the skull connects with the rest of the body. 

Stoat

During the warm seasons, their fur is brown but changes color during the winter. The color does not vary for the entire body. The tail will retain its black color all year long. 

These small mammals hunt using their sense of smell. They have an exceptional sense of smell and can catch the scent of prey from long distances. 

Stoats have an impaired vision during the day and cannot see color as much as humans can. They can see better at night and in some cases, target their prey using sight and smell. 

You will not see stoats during the day because they are nocturnal animals. They are crepuscular, being active during dusk and dawn hours.  

Stoats spray a horrid-smelling fluid whenever they sense danger. This discourages predators from coming any closer to them. If chased, they run very fast and can climb up trees.

For more information on stoats, I have compiled 101 facts which you can find here.

What do Stoats Eat? 

Stoats are carnivorous, and their primary food source is meat. They prefer to feed on rabbits which are bigger than them. Stoats are fierce hunters and follow the trail of prey relentlessly by using their keen sense of smell. 

Stoats move at a fast pace, reaching speeds up to 20 miles an hour. Their exceptional hunting skills make them capable of killing larger animals.

Stoat

A stoat can consume up to its weight per day. They supplement their diet with small rodents, including voles and mice.  

When food is limited, the stoat may feed on birds, bird eggs and hares. They may also feed on small invertebrates, amphibians such as frogs, fish, insects and reptiles. 

Their ability to climb trees makes birds and bird’s eggs available to them. They are also active when most of their prey is sleeping or resting.  

Stoats have excellent vision at night, which enables them to prey on frogs, rabbits, poultry and birds when they are still sleeping. 

If you would like more information on stoats, I have compiled a list of 101 facts. You can find it here.

What are Weasels? 

Wesel

Weasels belong to the genus Mustela and family Mustelidae, the same family as stoats. They are also mammals and have the same coloration as stoats. They usually grow up to 21 cm long (8.5 inches) in body length. 

Females are generally smaller than males. Unlike stoats, weasels have a reddish or brown topcoat, and the fur on their stomach is white. 

There are some weasel species that turn completely white in winter. Weasels have long and slender bodies which help them to run and also allow them to follow their prey inside burrows. They have long tails of about 34-52 mm long. 

What do Weasels Eat? 

Weasels are predators, and they are likely to prey on small mammals, including rabbits and rodents. 

Weasels will also consume shrews, voles, rats, chipmunks and other small mammals. They have an avid appetite facilitated by a fast metabolism. Weasels have to eat at least half their body weight daily.

Weasel

Weasels are considered vermin because some species take chickens from farms. They can also attack and kill rabbits kept outside as pets. Weasels are also known to feed on rodents when food is scarce.

When the weasels cannot get enough food, they are likely to prey on other animals and insects including fish, eggs, birds and frogs. In some cases, the males can even attack larger mammals. They tend to consume larger animals than their female counterparts.

If you would like more information on weasels, I have written an article with 101 facts. You can read it here.

Is a Stoat or Weasel More Dangerous?

Stoats and weasels are not dangerous to humans or most pets. A cat will generally fight off either of them. However, the fight is never easy because both stoats and weasels are fierce animals. 

Stoats and weasels can be a nuisance to people with poultry farms. The weasel is more bloodthirsty than the stoat.  

Weasels will go after anything that looks like prey. Weasel will pounce on poultry, and take off with eggs too.

People are advised to stay away from weasels. Weasels do not usually attack people and prefer to run away. However, they do have large stores of horrible smelling fluids in scent glands under their tails.

When cornered, they can spray your face with the thicks, foul-smelling, yellow fluid. Should this fluid get into your eyes, you will need immediate medical attention to combat an eye infection.

Conservation Status

The two mammals are considered “Least Concern’’ on the IUCN red list. This rating does not show that human activities and other external forces do not threaten the two species. Pesticides, chemical runoff and several other agricultural practices affect both species. 

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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