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STOAT (stoht)

A small mammal also known as the Short-tailed Weasel
Common clues: Summer ermine; Brown ermine; Ermine in summer; Brown fur; Ermine in brown; Animal with a black-tipped tail; Mink kin; Short-tailed weasel
Crossword puzzle frequency: once a year
Frequency in English language: 44411 / 86800
Family of Stoats Playing

The Stoat (Mustela erminea) is a small mammal of the family Mustelidae. In North America it is also referred to as the Short-tailed Weasel. When in its white winter coat, it is also called an Ermine.

It is an opportunistic carnivore, and grows up to 30 cm long. It eats rabbits; rodents such as the mouse, vole and rat; other small mammals; birds and their eggs and young; and sometimes fish, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. It is a very skillful tree climber and can descend a trunk headfirst, like a squirrel. The stoat is capable of killing animals much larger than itself. When it is able to obtain more meat than it can eat it will engage in "surplus killing" and often stores the extra food for later. Like other mustelids it typically dispatches its prey by biting into the base of the skull to get at the centers of the brain responsible for such important biological functions as breathing. Sometimes it will also make preliminary bites to other areas of the body. In most areas it coexists with the Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis, also known as the European common weasel), and in this situation competition is reduced by the Least weasel, the smallest member of order Carnivora, generally taking smaller prey and the stoat slightly larger prey. Where the Least weasel is absent the stoat is smaller (~70 g). Males are much larger than females and generally take larger prey.

The skins were prized by the fur trade, especially in winter coat, and used to trim coats and stoles. The fur from the winter coat is referred to as "ermine". In Europe these furs were a symbol of royalty; the ceremonial robes of members of the UK House of Lords are trimmed with ermine, though artificial fur is now used. The ermine was also considered a symbol of purity in Europe. In some areas of Japan, because of its adorable appearance and somewhat elusive nature it is still considered a symbol of good luck.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Stoat".