December 19, 2008

Stoats ready for white Christmas

The stoats at an ancient ruined priory in Northern England appear to be preparing for a white Christmas.

The mammals have already changed to their white winter coats, The Daily Mail reports. Last year, the change was delayed into January.

Stoats, also known as ermine, are brown with off-white bellies. But in the northern part of their range, where an inch or more of snow is usual in winter, they shed the brown fur for a thicker white coat, producing a pelt that was highly valued during the Middle Ages.

The stoats at Mount Grace Priory in northern Yorkshire gained a reputation as weather forecasters earlier this year when they kept their white coats for longer than usual. They were prepared when the country was hit with a rare snowstorm over Easter.

On that basis, the stoats could be offering a sign that we may need to wrap up warm for quite a few more months, said Becky Wright of English Heritage and the Mammal Society. Perhaps they know a white Christmas is on the cards.

Weather forecasters, more prosaically, say that a high pressure zone appears likely to stay put through Christmas.