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Ermine (or stoat)

The ermine (Mustela erminea) is a member of the weasel family that is best known (in Great Britain at least) for supplying the black-spotted white fur that has traditionally trimmed the ceremonial robes of members of the House of Lords.

It is a small animal measuring up to 12 inches (30 centimetres) in length which includes its black-tipped tail (up to 5 inches or 12 cms).

Somewhat confusingly, the ermine only exists during the winter months! At other times its fur is similar to that of the larger weasel, being reddish-brown above and on the head and white below. This is when it is known by the more familiar name of stoat.

The ermine has short legs, a long neck and a triangular head.

In order to survive, an ermine must eat every day. It is therefore a fearsome hunter of small mammals, which it will kill by trapping it with its legs and biting it on the back of the neck. The female ermine is roughly half the size of the male, which allows it to feed its young by hunting underground in burrows where a prey animal might have thought it was safe.

The ermine is sometimes forced to diversity its diet and will take small birds, eggs, fish or insects if necessary.

The fur of victim mammals is used to line the ermine’s nest, where a litter of four to nine offspring will be raised. The young are ready to join their mother in the daily food hunt when they are around two months old.

(The photo is taken from a copyright-free source)

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