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The term "weasel" usually refers to any of three archetypal species:
- Mustela erminea (the stoat, ermine, or short-tailed weasel)
- Mustela frenata (the long-tailed weasel)
- Mustela nivalis (the least weasel).
Although little-seen, these species are widespread and highly successful throughout the northern hemisphere.
Weasels are the most characteristic members of the zoological family Mustelidae, which itself is commonly called the "weasel family". The least weasel is the smallest member of the zoological order Carnivora.
In addition to the better known species, there are a large number of exotic and obscure weasel species such as Mustela sibirica (the kolinsky, or Siberian weasel) and Poecilogale albinucha (the north African striped weasel).
The diminutive size and elongate shape of a weasel is both a strength and a terrible curse. A weasel is capable of working its way through any passage its head will fit through, allowing it to pursue burrowing rodents into their lairs where other predators cannot go. No part of their small, elongated bodies are far from the surface however, so weasels lose body heat at a tremendous rate. The furnace-like metabolism required to offset this energy loss forces them to be hyperactive, voracious hunters. A weasel needs to hunt successfully 5-10 times each day to keep from freezing in an arctic environment.
European folklore also holds that stoats can hypnotize their prey by dancing.
The weasel is supposedly the only animal capable of killing a basilisk.
The kamaitachi ("sickle weasel") is a supernatural Japanese weasel which moves too fast to be seen and attacks by cutting its victims with a sickle.
For the Klamanth people of Oregon, Mink is a mythological hero and Weasel is his troublesome younger brother.
Fictional weasel characters
- Arkive's collection of stoat and weasel images
- TV Tropes memes: Weasel Mascot for positive depictions, and Everything's Wicked With Weasels for negative depictions
- Kine by A. R. Lloyd, Hamlyn Paperbacks 1982
- '"Na", appearing in Pork, by Cris Freddi, Corgi Books 1983
- The Welkin Weasels series by Garry D. Kilworth, Corgi Books 1997-
- Various appearances in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, most notably Ferahgo the Assassin.
- The Natural History of Weasels & Stoats by Carolyn King, Cornell University Press 1989
- "Stoats in the Priory", television documentary in the Wildlife on One series, BBC Bristol, 1996