The small size and thin shape of the weasels, so essential to the profession of burrow-hunting rodent predator and so advantageous in competition with other rodent hunters, have both advantages and disadvantages (Figure 2.8). The small size and long, thin shape of a weasel's body affect the whole of the rest of its life, and exploring these relationships is one of the recurring themes of this book. For example, the short legs, large home ranges, and tight energy budgets of weasels hinder regular, direct communication (friendly or unfriendly) between neighboring residents. This is no disadvantage to weasels, because they have large scent glands under their tails and use them as part of an advanced scent communication system (Chapter 8). Small size makes weasels almost as vulnerable to larger predators, especially raptors, as voles and lemmings are; the white winter coat of all species, and the black tail tip of the two larger, is a defense against the hunter being hunted (Chapter 11). Small size, short life span, and the capacity to make a large reproductive effort early in life tend to go together, especially in species that stand to gain a huge advantage from a rapid response to a sudden increase in food supplies (Chapters 9, 10, and 14). The consequences of the weasel body plan relevant here concern metabolism and physical strength.
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