The General Anatomy Of Weasels

In general body plan, the weasels are pretty much standard mammals. Weasels have the ancestral five-toed limbs and the usual arrangement of internal organs. Their specializations are mainly in the tools they need to hunt and to kill rodents in confined spaces—in the elongation and extraordinary flexibility of their spines, in their short limbs, and in the strength and shape of their skulls and teeth. These features put the weasels among nature's most interesting examples of the coevolution between predators and prey.

Weasels are much less conspicuous than the better-known big cats and wolves, and their predatory exploits are conducted on a scale that is less dramatic, at least to us; but in their own way they are just as spectacular as the big carnivores, or more so. They are much more widespread than large carnivores and easier to handle, and when common they are much more available and

Figure 2.1 The ability of weasels to forage under the snow is the key to their survival in the far north.

amenable as subjects for teaching and research. When their populations crash, which can happen at any time—a drastic problem if it happens in the middle of a graduate student's research—they epitomize the problems inherent in research on wild carnivores.

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