Adjustable Living Spaces

romantic poets who speak of the freedom of a wild animal generally mean freedom from captivity in a cage. There are other sorts of captivity, and some are worse (or, at least, sooner fatal) than life in a cage. Few wild animals are free of the daily task of searching for food, and few are free to wander wherever they like. Most animals have a home range on which they live, and to wander onto another's home range may invite trouble, because it might be seen as trespassing. Small animals such as weasels are never free from the need to keep alert for danger constantly, both from visible hazards such as raptors and from invisible ones such as loss of body heat in winter.

A weasel may be safe from all these dangers in a den or temporary resting site, but it cannot stay there indefinitely. Sooner or later, it must venture out to hunt and, in season, to search for a mate. The hungrier a weasel is, the more urgent is the search for food; on the other hand, the colder the weather is, the more energy can be conserved by staying in a nest. Least weasels and stoats living under the arctic snows have to balance the opposite necessities of spending time outside hunting, and inside keeping warm.

In general, weasels tend to conduct their hunting and social affairs in the least possible space and time; for them, sleep is a positive defense against the twin enemies of larger predators and, more important, cold (Buckingham 1979). Weasels range no farther and hunt no longer than they have to, and as soon as their needs are fulfilled they return to a den. Naturally, that takes longer if prey are scarce. Records of weasel home ranges and activity observed at different times and in different places therefore show enormous variation.

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