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The stoat or ermine

Mustela erminea

The stoat is a small predator; it is very agile and exceptionally fast, characteristics that permit it to hunt on the snow, between rocks, on trees and even in the water. It is a very small animal, with a black tuft on the tip of its tail. Due to its valuable fur, it was relentlessly hunted in the past. The male of the species weighs twice as much as the female and is at least 5cm longer (the measurement varies from 18cm to 32cm). The body is slim and long, of cylindrical shape. The stoat moves with the typical gait of members of the Mustelidae family, in more or less long jumps, whereby the hindlegs come down on the footprints of the forelegs. Every stoat has its own hunting territory; the male’s territory is three or four times as large as that of the female. It is capable of catching prey bigger than itself, and it will attack birds’ nests. It hunts during the day and at night and often stores food. The den, which can be in holes, in cavities of tree trunks or in the crevice of a wall, is laid out with hair, dry herbs and leaves. The male stoat is polygamous and accepts, therefore, the presence of several females within its own territory.
The stoat or ermine
 
The stoat or ermine

Adaptation

In both males and females, the stoat’s coat varies, depending on the season. In the summer, the animal’s back is cinnamon-coloured and the stomach is white. During the winter, on the other hand, the stoat’s fur moults to completely white, and the animal is then called “ermine”. The only part of its body that remains unchanged throughout the year is the black tip of the tail. The changing fur not only allows the stoat to adapt to the prevailing temperature, but it also constitutes a perfect camouflage. In this way, the stoat or ermine merges with the ground in all seasons, which makes it such a terrifying predator for its potential prey.
The ermine’s winter coat is very thick (containing up to twenty thousand hairs per square centimetre!), which makes it very effective in maintaining the animal’s body temperature. In this way, the ermine is very well prepared to face the rigours of a long Alpine winter.
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