The stoat is a small, carnivorous member of the mustelid family, similar in appearance to large weasels. They have long, slender bodies, short legs and a long black-tipped tail. Their coats are light brown and they have a white underbelly. In the winter, between late November and late December most stoats in north-east Scotland turn entirely white, apart from their black-tipped tail. Later in the year, around January, about 30% of stoats in south-west Scotland turn white as well. This is known as being in ermine. Stoats return to their brown colour between mid-February and April. In other areas of the UK, such as England, stoats tend to stay brown year-round.
Stoats are solitary and occupy overlapping home ranges marked with scent, though these are not regularly patrolled. The stoat usually makes its den in an old rabbit burrow, but they have also been known to use tree roots or hollow logs. They hunt and forage within their home range, usually making trips of two to three hours up to 100 metres from their dens. Their main prey is rabbits, though they also eat voles, mice, shrews and eggs. Stoats have been known to take on prey five times larger than themselves. They are very agile and can climb trees to prey on birds as well.
- Length: 28-40cm plus a 9-14cm tail
- Weight: 150-400g
- Average life span: up to 7 years
Stoats are protected by the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981
When to see
All year round
- Stoats run in a zig-zag pattern across their territory, methodically searching for prey.
- More male than female stoats are trapped, accounted for by the fact that females are more likely to hunt within burrows.
- Stoats were subjected to intensive predator control in the 19th century, though they did not suffer population declines due to their ability to rapidly reproduce and migrate. Populations are largely dependent on rabbit populations and have suffered declines when rabbit populations were low in the past.