Ermine Is Not Cockney For Herman

Kanze ermine.jpg

The ermine, or short-tailed weasel, is not a creature seen very often. The first one I ever glimpsed at our place in the Adirondacks invited itself for lunch. One memorable afternoon, I was assembling a sardine sandwich when a brown, furry, cylindrical shape about the size of one of my socks flung itself over the threshold and raced around the baseboards. Eventually the thing lurched to a stop.

One end rose up from the floor and looked up at me with small, curious eyes. A weasel! That was all I could be sure of at first. Then I remembered to make a quick comparison of tail length to body length. The tail was half as long as the body, maybe shorter. An ermine! The long-tailed weasel has a longer tail, and it's a more robust animal overall. This creature was about as thick around as a bratwurst and not much different in shape. Both ermines and long-tailed weasels turn white in winter.

Since that day, we've had many ermine sightings. Most occur on or near a platform where, about once a week, we put out a lightly picked chicken carcass. Songbirds peck at the chicken, and we attract the occasional owl. But the most entertaining diners of all are the ermines.

They race up the pole, executive a gymnastic maneuver to reach the carcass sitting on a platform about the surface area of a large book, and chomp. Apparently ermines like to eat in private, beyond the prying eyes of other ermines, other would-be carcass eaters, and predators. Invariably, the ermine yanks and yanks some more and tries to make off with the chicken. Frustrated, the little weasel will hang off the edge of the platform and swing like a pendulum. It doesn't work because owls have taught us to chain carcasses down.

Occasionally on nature walks we see wild weasels racing along, lithe, graceful, determined. Each one is a treat!