|Stoat, Mustela erminea|
I am conscious of sharing new as well as old photos here, so with that in mind here are a few of a new display stoat now living in the middle of the three stoat pens opposite the polecats.
She is a real beauty, with blond highlights along the side of her face and around her ears. She has also settled very quickly and has been a superstar over the past few days, and in particular this weekend gone with people watching her.
I love stoats!.. They are one of my favourite animals. They truly are skilled at what they do, and specialist hunters. For their size they are one of the most ferocious predators around and can single handedly take down an adult rabbit, up to ten times its own weight... Take that big cats!
Closely related to the smaller weasel, stoats are recognised by their larger size (although still only approximately 8 inches with tail), their black tip to the tail where as a weasels tail is all the same colour, and the neater dividing line between the brown top coat and the cream undercoat, weasels tend to have a messier divide between the two.
It is not often you find stoats and weasels in the same area, but they are not really that big a competition to each other in areas that you do, tending to prey on different animals. The stoat mainly takes the rabbits with the weasel looking at the smaller voles. We used to have both stoats and weasels around the Centre, with the stoats living out to the right and the weasels to the left on our reserve. That being said, I have not seen a wild stoat in the Centre now for a good year or so where as weasels are still often seen.
There are many fascinating things about stoats I could bore you with, and did for some of you at last years members evening, but I won't here... I will just mention their breeding though as it really is quite unique.
A female stoat becomes sexually active at a very young age, her reproductive system maturing very quickly. Usually at only around two weeks old, when the kits eyes are still shut and they are still heavily dependant on mum, a male will enter the nest... mate with the female, and all the female kits, before running off again.
Stoats have delayed implantation, so despite mating late in the Spring, their bodies delay the implantation, and therefore development of the embryo, until the following spring giving birth around a year after mating. Isn't nature just incredible!
Stoats are very difficult to breed in captivity, and we have only been successful in having young stoats here on a few occasions. The last litter was born here last year, two males born in our hedgerow display. One is still living their and is great for our school groups. The children love seeing him, and are often thinking there is more than one with the speed at which he moves around his enclosure.
I have been asked about "tips" and "advice" on how to take good photos here at the Centre, and am happy to share when I think I can help, but of course, there is always more than one way to do something, and you may already do this or have a better way to get a photo of our stoats.
I find the key to our stoats are that they are so quick and constantly moving, darting in and out of holes in the ground. However... they are also an animal of habit. I never try and second guess where the stoat will come out, or follow it around and keep trying to snap a photo each and every time it pops its head out of a hole. Instead I watch for a few minutes, find out which holes they keep coming back to (usually just two or three), and then prepare by aiming the camera at just one of those holes and waiting.
Yes, it means I miss the chance each time it appears at another hole, but by the time I would move the camera to try and snap they probably would of moved on anyway. By waiting patiently on one hole, then when it does appear at that one you have that brief moment to focus on the stoat, rattle off a picture or two, before the stoat runs off again.
Thanks for looking