Siberian Weasel, Mustela sibirica

The Siberian weasel or kolonok (Mustela sibirica) is native to Asia. Its native range includes Laos, Myanmar, North Korea, Nepal, India, and Russia, among other areas. It has been introduced into Kamishima, Jabu, Honshu, and Shikoku. This species holds eleven recognized subspecies.

The Siberian weasel varies in size between the sexes, with males growing larger than females. Males can reach an average body length of up to 15.3 inches and a weight of up to 1.8 pounds, while females reach a length of 12 inches and an average weight of up to .9 pounds. This species has short legs, a stout body, and an elongated head. Its tail can take up half of its entire body length. The winter coat of the Siberian weasel is thick and soft and is typically reddish orange in color. Occasionally a pale or light orange coloring can be seen on the flanks, underbelly, and back. The face holds a brown mask of fur and the tail is fluffier than other species that share its genus.

The Siberian weasel will nest in many areas including hollow logs, tree roots, stumps, and brushwood piles. Abandoned dens of other animals are also used, but these are expanded to a depth of up to 4.2 feet. The inner room of the nest is lined with soft feathers and fur from rodents and used for rearing young.

The breeding season for the Siberian weasel varies depending upon its location, but can occur between the months of February and late May. After a pregnancy period of up to forty-one days, a litter between four and ten kits is born. These kits are born blind with a small amount of white fur along their bodies. After a few days, the fur begins to grow in thick and becomes yellow in color. After one month, the kits open their eyes, and they are weaned after two months. During August, only a few months after their birth, the kits reach maturity, although their fur is still darker than that of adults.

The diet of the Siberian weasel consists mainly of small or medium sized rodents. Its preferred prey includes water voles in the western areas of its range, but in the eastern areas of its range, it prefers both voles and mice. Other prey includes jerboas, muskrats, chipmunks, and red squirrels. Although this species has a wide range of prey, some items, like fish and carrion, are only eaten during certain seasons. Birds, reptiles, and amphibians are only consumed by individuals located on the outskirts of its range. These hunters are known to catch large prey and will occasionally consume plant materials like seeds.

The Siberian weasel is thought to be a wandering spirit, or shen, in Chinese folklore that can steal a person’s soul or place souls in different people. This species is known to control rodent populations, but they are also known to damage muskrat and poultry farms. In Siberia and the far eastern portions of its range, the Siberian weasel is hunted for its fur, which is sold as both natural fur and as imitations for other, more expensive types of fur. The fur of this species is also used for paintbrushes, specifically for oil paints, watercolors, and in calligraphy brushes. The kolinsky sable-hair brush, said to be made from sable fur, is actually made from the winter fur of this weasel. The Siberian weasel appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern” because it is thought to occur in large numbers across its large range.

Image Caption: Siberian Weasel (Mustela sibirica), Zoo Dresden. Credit: Altaipanther/Wikipedia