Where Do Weasels Live In North America?


Weasels are small, sleek mammals which live across North America. Weasels have the ability to squeeze into small openings and are very capable hunters. Weasels are also prey to larger carnivores so to survive they have to be very vigilant and cautious.

There are ten species of weasels, and three of them are native to North America. The long-tailed weasel is the largest and most common species, followed by the short-tailed weasel and the least weasel. All three species in North America are quite similar, and no matter in which part of North America they live, their habitat is also very similar.

To find out where and how weasels live, please keep on reading.

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Where Do Weasels Live In The United States?

We can find long-tailed weasels in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and New Mexico in the United States. Short-tailed weasels live in northwestern and northeastern states and can also be found in Alaska.  Short-tailed weasels also live in the area around the Great Lakes. The least weasel can be found in central and southern states.

To survive, weasels need a good source of food, water, and shelter. If weasels can find these three things, then weasels can easily thrive.

The usual habitats for weasels are woods, forests, grasslands, and moors. Their natural habitat is decreasing rapidly, so they are more often found nearer human settlements, causing damage to farmers.

Numerous cases have been reported where weasels have killed hens on farms. The weasel population in the United States is stable, but increasing farmlands and decreasing prey could cause the population to reduce drastically. Areas where weasels live could potentially become places without a weasel population.

Weasels near farms can also be very useful. They feed on common pests such as rats and mice, and weasels will also kill snakes and lizards.

The size of the territory belonging to weasels is usually between 30-80 acres. When food is less available in winter, some weasels will increase their territory size up to 300 acres.

For an animal so small, the weasel holds huge territories, although the density in these locations is quite low.

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Where Do Weasels Live In Canada?

All three previously mentioned weasel species also live in Canada. They are widespread across the country, even in the colder, more northern parts. Weasels can be found in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia.

The long-tailed weasel is native to southern areas of British Columbia, the Prairies, Quebec, Ontario, and New Brunswick. In Canada, they can mainly be found in forests and tundra, but they can also be found in other locations, including marshes, meadows, and woodlands. All those locations have to have a permanent water source to be adequate for weasels.

Short-tailed weasels live in tundra and colder, northern parts of the country than the other two species. Least weasels are widespread and can be found almost everywhere.

Canada is a large country with fewer inhabitants per square mile. That enables wild animals, including weasels, to live in large territories. Unlike the United States, weasels in Canada are not present around human settlements too often. This also means they can divide the territory between themselves with less overlap.

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Weasel

Where Do Weasels Live During The Day?

Weasels use dens located in hollow trees that have two entrances. Multiple entrances enable weasels to escape from unwanted visitors and to access the den from different directions if in danger.

Dens can also be located under a pile of rocks or a similar natural formation. Although weasels are more than capable of digging, they generally use burrows made and abandoned by other animals such as prairie dogs.

Weasels fill their dens with grass, feathers, and other soft materials to keep them warm and make them comfortable to raise their young. The dens have a chamber about 2 feet (0.61 m) from the narrow entrance. Chambers are usually 1 foot wide and accommodate several young weasels.

Weasels do not need permanent dens like some other mammals. They often steal a den from their prey and temporarily move in. Weasels also cache food in those dens to eat later. 

During the day, they spend most of their time resting in their dens.  Interestingly, their metabolism is two times faster while resting than in other animals, who are two times bigger. Snakes and hawks prey on weasels, so they must be very cautious and stay hidden.

Sometimes it is possible to see weasels hunting during the day. This usually occurs when food sources are limited in the area. For predators as small as a weasel, wandering around when highly visible is quite dangerous.

The amount of activity a weasel does in the daytime also depends on the climate and the season. In northern parts of the continent, where days are longer in the summer, they will hunt more during the day.

Weasels are active all-year-round. In winter, long-tailed and short-tailed weasels change their fur color from brown to white. Blending into the environment is important for a small animal that needs to feed every day.

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Where Do Weasels Live During The Night?

Weasels are nocturnal animals. When they are awake, they are very active and spend their time hunting, eating, and storing food later. Weasels can eat half of their own body weight in a single day. Unlike some other mammals, they must eat often, sometimes eating up to ten times a day.

 Weasels do not have the ability to store fat in their bodies and so cannot live from that in times of food shortage.

There is a reason that weasels do not store fat. During the night, they hunt mice, rabbits, rats, and voles. Weasels also eat eggs, frogs, and smaller birds. Their body shape enables them to get into tight openings where they can grab their small prey.

This is especially useful during winter when they must extract prey from dens. There are no bird eggs, frogs, or similar animals in the winter for weasels to catch, and so depend on rodents hidden in burrows beneath the snow.

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To catch prey, weasels bite the backside of an animal’s neck until it dies. They are very silent when moving and can come very close to unsuspecting prey.

Owls and foxes are a weasel’s natural enemies. Weasels have to be especially vigilant during the night when roaming outside their hiding places. The seasonal color change of their fur is an advantage here. In northern parts, during winter, nights are much longer, so weasels have more time to search for prey.  When searching for food, weasels can cover distances longer than 2 miles (3.22 km).

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Do Weasels Live In Family Groups?

Weasels prefer to live and hunt alone, although they tolerate other weasels during the mating season. Males and females may even hunt together during mating season and after the females give birth.

Mating season is between March and June, and depending on prey availability, they can mate up to three times a year. Females take care of their babies until they are grown. Weasels start hunting on their own when about two months old. Soon after, they move away from the adult female.

Weasels have large litters with up to 8 young. Females hunt with their young until they mature. They grow up fast, and groups of weasels can sometimes be seen.  However, they are a group of young with an adult female rather than a group of adults.

Long-tailed weasels are a bit different when it comes to breeding. They mate in mid-summer, but the implantation is delayed until spring.

Male weasels often hold territories that overlap with female territories, although same-sex territories do not happen. Males hold larger territories than females.

During mating season, male long-tailed weasels mate with multiple females, and fights between males searching for females are common during this period.

Weasels are fierce and very aggressive toward other animals, even bigger ones. They will not tolerate other weasels and will sometimes attack each other. Same-sex attacks are common, but sometimes, opposite-sex attacks can occur. This usually happens when the prey availability is low, and their territories overlap.

Weasels are the smallest species of carnivore in the world.  Their extremely aggressive behavior compensates for their size to scare off their enemies.

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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 Nature.

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