Species Spotlight: Long-Tailed Weasel is Cute but Ferocious

May 10, 2023 | MSHCP, Species

Don’t let the cute face fool you…the long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata) is feisty and fierce, feeding mainly on voles, mice, rats, gophers, and squirrels, and fearless in attacking prey many times its size. Long-tailed weasels are quick, agile, and alert animals. They hunt their prey by picking up scent or sound cues and then follow their prey before making a quick attack. It doesn’t look so cute now.

The long-tailed weasel is about 15 inches in length, including its five-inch tail, and is very slender – only about the diameter of a soda can. It often stands upright on its hind legs, exposing its body to the elements, causing it to lose body heat. As a result, it has a high metabolic rate and can eat up to one-third of its body weight each day. While mammals are their food of choice, these weasels eat a wide range of food, from birds to reptiles, and in the summer, they transition to a “healthier” diet consisting of fruits and berries.

​Preferred habitat types include brushland, open timber, brushy field borders, and grasslands along creeks and lakes. This tiny carnivore makes its home in the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, the Badlands, San Timoteo Creek, Lake Skinner-Diamond Valley Lake, Alberhill, and other locations within the MSHCP area.

Primarily nocturnal, the long-tailed weasel also may be active during other times of the day. The breeding season varies, but females tend to produce one litter of three to nine kits per year during the spring months. Males may help take care of their offspring.

​While the long-tailed weasel population is more stable than other weasel species, it also fluctuates, and local populations may be affected as a response to changes in the availability of prey. Other threats include becoming prey to other animals (owls, coyotes or snakes), disease, parasites, trapping, shooting, and road kills. Loss of habitat and possible genetic isolation also threatens the persistence of this species.

With the help of the MSHCP, at least 474,500 acres of suitable habitat for the long-tailed weasel will be conserved. Conserved habitat will protect this species by connecting lands enabling this species to expand into other areas reducing the potential for isolated populations.