The weasels are a group of closely related mustelids which specialize in chasing rodents and rabbits down their burrows and killing them in their dens. The larger weasels are often called ferrets. Weasels have a very high metabolism. They need to eat frequently to fuel their frantic activity.
One species of weasel has been domesticated - the domestic ferret. These are used to exterminate rats and hunt rabbits. The ferrets are introduced into the burrows, and the rats or rabbits are flushed out into the open, where they can be shot, netted, or killed with a terrier. Domestic ferrets make playful, energetic, and affectionate pets.
The smaller species of weasel tend towards red-brown in color, but turn pure white in winter, with the possible exception of a black tail tip. One of these species, the ermine, has long been prized for its fur. Ermine skins have long been part of the trappings of European royalty.
The ferrets tend to have buff or yellowish undercoats with dark guard hairs, black feet, and white faces marked with black masks.
Weasels are native to Eurasia and the Americas. The polecat (a type of weasel) has been introduced to New Zeeland in an attempt to eradicate the introduced European rabbit. Instead, ecological havoc resulted as the weasels proceded to chow down on the gentle and fearless native flightless birds.
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