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Iowa’s smallest fur bearer

January 6, 2013
Nick Buseman - Grundy County Conservation Operation Supervisor , Reinbeck Courier

Iowa's smallest fur bearer is one that many people don't think exists anymore. The ermine or weasel is a predator that was known to devastate chicken populations on area farms throughout the countryside. Measuring less than a foot in length and slender enough to fit through an inch diameter hole, the weasel was a hard critter to keep from entering the chicken houses. Talking to past generation farmers, they can all tell you stories of weasels devastating their chicken or egg population. Weasels are vicious killers, often killing for the sheer joy of it. I have heard stories of entire flocks slaughtered in a chicken house, and most times there was no evidence of a single bite eaten. Pound for pound the weasel is one of Iowa's most aggressive predators.

With egg and chicken production leaving the family farms most people don't realize the existence of the weasel. Past generation farmers remember weasels coming into farm buildings, but over the years most people thought the weasel had disappeared. Like most animals the weasel had to adapt or disappear. With the taste of chicken coming harder and harder to find, many of the weasel populations moved from the acreages to thick sloughs and marshes. With the move came new food, many weasels today snack on mice and other small rodents, but are always up for the challenge of taking down cottontail rabbits, pheasants, and anything else they can get a hold of.

The weasel or ermine has a few interesting traits that make them very unique. During the summer months the weasel in brown in color, with only its belly being white; when winter arrives the weasel turns to all white in color, with only the tip of its tails being black. This feature helps them drastically in camouflaging them throughout the year assisting them in both survival and hunting. Another interesting fact about the weasel is that they often lap the blood of their victim before consuming it. Also as they feed they often turn back the skin of their victim to get to the flesh. When done the skin of an animal consumed by a weasel is left inside out. Finding this is a great sign of weasels in the area.

As I stated in the title, the weasel is Iowa's smallest fur bearer. As most of you know one of my greatest passions is trapping. So with the low water condition and most creeks now frozen, I have accepted the challenge of catching a weasel. Most weasel trapping is done with wooden boxes constructed around either a rat trap or a long spring foot trap. Both traps are designed for lethal catches. The boxes I constructed are 14 inches in length and made with 1x6 lumber. On one end of the box I drilled a 1 1/2 inch hole for the weasels to enter the box. I made the rear of the box hinged so you can access the box. Muskrat or beaver meat is often the bait of choice. Overall the boxes are very easy to construct and a fun winter activity. So far success has not yet occurred, so I am far from an expert in weasel trapping, but with expanding my line I hope success is soon. So if you're looking for a fun winter activity, give trapping Iowa's smallest furbearer a try, but don't forget to have your furbearer license.



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