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

Stoats and humans

The beautiful white coat of the stoat in winter, the ermine, has always been prized by humans. It is the traditional trimming to the robes worn by royalty. 50,000 ermine pelts were sent from Canada to England for King George VI's coronation in 1937! They were once trapped in large numbers in the Arctic, Russia and North America but, fortunately for the stoat, in recent times the price of labour to process such tiny pelts has not made hunting worthwhile.

In Britain, stoats have been ruthlessly trapped by gamekeepers who accused them of stealing game birds - despite the fact that their main prey is rabbits and mice. Nowadays, this persecution has been much reduced and stoats have soon recovered in numbers. Populations of stoats vary according to the number of prey. When rabbits were affected by the disease myxomatosis in the 1950s, almost all of them were wiped out, and in the areas where stoats depended heavily on rabbits, their numbers declined drastically. But stoats eat many other things, so they managed to survive in most areas. At the moment they are still quite common throughout Britain.

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