The stoat is sometimes mistaken for its close relative, the weasel, but it is larger and has a distinctive black tip to its tail.


Hunting and food

The alert, inquisitive stoat is one of the fiercest of predators. It can move fast, maybe up to 20 miles an hour, bounding over the ground. Almost any type of country habitat may be inhabited by stoats, but they usually prefer an area with good cover, and on farmland will keep to walls, hedges or fences where possible.

The stoat is a true carnivore, although it will eat birds' eggs, and feeds mainly on small mammals such as rabbits, hares, mice, voles and shrews - whatever is readily available in its territory. Birds are also eaten, and when other prey is scarce, it will even eat earthworms, large insects and carrion (dead animals).

The stoat's eyesight has a resolution below that of humans, though its night vision is better than ours.  A stoat tracks down its prey by scent, being able to locate a victim from a great distance. It follows a trail relentlessly, and once in pursuit, the prey has little chance of escape. The victim is killed by pouncing on it and biting deeply into the back of the neck near the base of the skull.

A stoat will often perform strange antics as part of its hunting strategy. It will approach a group of birds or rabbits and then jump around, pretending to ignore the animals who are attracted to this odd performance and edge nearer to get a better look! The stoat then suddenly pounces on the nearest member of its audience!

Lack of available prey is probably the main cause of death for young stoats for which mortality is high. Other predators include owls, hawks or larger carnivores such as the fox and particularly the domestic cat. There is little competition for food between stoats and weasels. The stoat is much more aggressive and can handle larger prey, but the weasel is an excellent 'tunnel-hunter', reaching small rodents which the stoat cannot.

Read More: Breeding

Related Resources