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Cat Owners Asked to Help with Least Weasel Study

Cat Owners Asked to Help with Least Weasel Study

People with cats that roam outside may be able to help researchers with an important scientific research project on the least weasel.

Wildlife biologists are studying the distribution and life history of the least weasel (Mustela nivalis) in the southeastern United States and are asking cat owners to report if their outdoor cat presents one as a gift.

The least weasel is the smallest carnivore in North America, feeding on small animals such as rodents, lizards, birds and bird eggs. These small animals are often killed by cats and brought back to their owners.

Least Weasel Identification

Size:

Body 7-9 inches

Tail 2-2.5 inches

Cat Owners Asked to Help with Least Weasel Study

32-day old female Least Weasel beside a matchstick. Photo: D. Pattie. Courtesy of American Society of Mammalogists. www.mammalsociety.org

Appearance:

The fur of the least weasel is chocolate to reddish brown on their backs and white on the underside. While northern least weasel populations have a winter coat that turns all white, those in the south retain the brown color on their back all year. The tail is less than 25% the length of the head and body, and does not have a black tip.

Cat Owners Asked to Help with Least Weasel Study

Mustela nivalis. Photo: Piet Munsterman. Courtesy of Saxifraga Foundation. www.ecnc.org/publications/freenatureimages

“The least weasel is the rarest mammal in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Although its presence has long been suspected, the first (and so far the only) animal was not positively identified until 2014,” said Dr. Donald W. Linzey, instructor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech.

Linzey has authored numerous books, including Vertebrate Biology, Mammals of Virginia, Mammals of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and A Natural History Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

If you live in the southeastern United States, especially in areas near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, researchers want to hear from you if your cat kills a least weasel. Please remove the weasel from the cat, call researchers below and if possible, place the weasel in a freezer.

Dr. Donald W. Linzey (540) 951-9717 or (770) 500-2866

Dr. Becky Nichols (865) 436-1702

About Candice Fitzgibbons

I am a Sevier County resident and active in my local community. I've spent more than 20 years as a graphic designer and copywriter, creating marketing materials to help small to medium sized businesses and non-profit organizations achieve their goals. I have a passion for equality, the environment and animal rights.