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Stoats and weasels

Some of my work at Manchester University includes teaching all the first year Zoology and Biology students. Apart from my interest in amphibians and reptiles, I also have a huge interest in animals of every kind, including fish, birds, insects, and of course mammals. I find it extremely rewarding to share my knowledge with others so interested in the subject. Apparently my interest in animals, and sharing it, started really early in my childhood and Im told that by the age of  7 my party piece was to recite the latin names of all the British mammals – which I admit must sound pretty geeky to some 🙂 I do actually remember going on a junior school trip to Ribchester  when I was about that age – and rather than coming home with a head full of Roman History I brought back a tiny torpid bat I found clinging to a wall in my sandwich box. To my Mum’s dispair it hung on my bedroom curtains for several days and nights, and after feeding it up with mealworms in an effort to help it survive I released it some days later. I still remember my pleasure in watching it fly away. It seems that since then, rescuing little creatures has come to be somewhat of a pastime for me, and I’ve raised many different injured or orphaned wild mammals over the years, including baby opossums, weasels and stoats.

Anyway, I thought you might be interested to hear about a couple of things relating to mammal rescues. Just this week, Becky Cliffe has returned from Costa Rica, where she has been spent a year on a research placement. You will be hearing more about Becky’s work in my next post, and of an opportunity to hear all about her experiences in a special presentation to be held at the Manchester Museum.

This summer I have also had my fair share of caring for wild mammals after being asked to help a young orphaned stoat whose mother and siblings were killed by a fox, leaving it totally helpless. I ended up raising it to the point where he could fend for himself. After getting quite attached to the little creature it was a really hard call to know when to release him back to the wild, particularly as I know he will probably only live for a quarter of the length of time in the wild, if he is lucky – either through persecution from gamekeepers or through a particularly nasty parasite that can be passed on through the shrews these animals like to catch and eat. However, I am still a great believer that wild animals belong in the wild.

Below is a clip showing what the parasitic nematode worm can do to a skull of a stoat or weasel, and to watch a couple of clips of the little stoat I reared please CLICK HERE



4 Responses

  1. Super-interesting!!! I didn´t know the differences between a stoat and a weasel, thanks a lot Andrew for the information…and about the parasitic nematode…does it kill shrews as well?

  2. Field,
    I loooooove stoats ever since i saw a documentary about them as a kid. And otters since I read ring of bright water. oh and Fishers since i watched another documentary about some guy who raised the cutest baby fishers. I loved the videos of the little stoat.

    Our zoo recently received an orphaned river otter, whom was taken home and handled frequently by zookeepers, kids etc and he was a total love. He didn’t bite like otters are supposed to. However, when they went to neuter him his blood was like water- some sort of red blood cell production issue was present and he passed. Was very sad.

    We are hoping for more otters and other mustelids at the zoo!!


  3. Hi Elena, Thanks for the comment and pleased you found the post of such interest! I forgot to mention that the best way to tell weasels and stoats apart except for their size is that stoats have a black tip to thier tail. As far as I am aware the shrews are the host carrier for this parasite, but they are not so long lived either. The level of feeding on the shrews is significant in the numbers of weasels affected, stoats feed on less (more rabbits etc) so have much fewer cases of this worm. But scarily its not just mustelids that that get parasitic worms in the brain….


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