WEASELS, BADGERS, SKUNKS, AND OTTERS – Mustelidae

WEASELS, BADGERS, SKUNKS, AND OTTERS

WEASELS, BADGERS, SKUNKS, AND OTTERS FACTS

Mustelids, members of the family Mustelidae, may either have a slim, elongated body and long tail like weasels, mink, martens, and otters, or a stocky body and short tail like badgers and wolverines. Some have webbed feet for swimming. Their fur may be uniform in color, striped, or spotted. They may be white, silver, brown, or black in color. The smallest mustelid, the least weasel, is also the smallest carnivore, weighing about 1.76 ounces (50 grams).

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

Mustelids are found on all continents except Antarctica. They live in such countries as the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Mongolia, Great Britain, Ireland, Finland, Algeria, and Morocco.

WEASELS, BADGERS, SKUNKS, AND OTTERS HABITAT

Mustelids inhabit a wide range of habitats. Sea otters live exclusively in the ocean, while river otters forage for food in water but den (make a den, or place to live) on land. Some live in the desert like the honey badgers, and others in tundra marshes, like ermines. Some take over their prey’s dens, such as black-footed ferrets. Others, including skunks and badgers live near humans under abandoned buildings, in golf courses, and in parks.

WEASELS, BADGERS, SKUNKS, AND OTTERS DIET

Mustelids are either true carnivores, such as weasels, martens, and otters, feeding mainly on meat, or omnivores, like skunks, badgers, and tayras, consuming both animals and plants. Their diet consists of rodents, rabbits, reptiles, birds, insects, fruits, roots, and seeds.

BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

Mustelids are mostly nocturnal, active at night. Most are solitary, except for otters and European badgers, which form social groups. Some are excellent swimmers and skillful climbers. Musk secreted by anal glands is used to scent mark territory, as a defense mechanism in skunks, or for communication.

Only the giant otter mates with just one partner. Some species experience delayed implantation, during which the fertilized egg waits several months before attaching to the uterus to continue development. Females have a litter of one to twelve offspring, depending on the species. Males do not participate in parenting.

MUSTELIDS AND PEOPLE

Mustelids are hunted by humans for their fur. Ferrets are kept as pets, while otters are kept in zoo exhibits. Some are considered pests for spraying musk and for digging up lawns and golf courses. Others carry diseases.

CONSERVATION STATUS

The United States classifies the black-footed ferret as Endangered due to habitat loss to agriculture and the declining population of prairie dogs, its main prey. The IUCN lists the black-footed ferret as Extinct in the Wild, and four otters, two weasels, and one mink as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.