Weaselly Distinguished Stoatally Different

there is something enormously satisfactory about a weasel. It has the perfection, grace, and efficiency of a well-designed tool in the hands of an expert. Just as people love to watch and applaud a craftsman or artist at work or a display of the skills of any top sportsman, so have we, for years, loved to study and applaud the lives of weasels. They are among the purest of carnivores, perfectly adapted in every feature of their bodies and behavior to live exclusively as hunters. These adaptations add up to a design for an effective mouse-harvesting machine that humans can only envy.

In Europe, North America, and especially New Zealand, farmers and foresters have even tried to make use of the powers of weasels for their own ends, particularly to control various "pest" species such as voles (small mouse-like rodents with short tails and small eyes and ears) and rabbits. But the philosophies of weasels and of people toward such situations are quite different: What for us is a problem, requiring elimination, is for weasels an opportunity, to be exploited. That is why biological control by weasels seldom works (Chapters 12, 13). One of the characteristics of a perfect tool is that it cannot be made to do a job other than the one for which it was designed.

All weasels have the sinuous physique common to the Mustelidae, the family of carnivores of which they are the smallest members. They have long, slender bodies, long necks, and short legs; their heads are rather flattish and smoothly pointed, exactly suitable instruments for poking into every possible small hole. Indeed, their Latin name is said to be derived from their small stature and long, pointed shape; Mustela means a "mus" (mouse) as long as a "telum" (spear). They have no apparent shoulders or hips, so the general impression is of a slim, furry tube ending in an excitable, bottlebrush tail. They have large rounded ears lying almost flat among the fur; bright, beady, black eyes; and very long, sensitive whiskers on their faces, and, like cats, short ones on their elbows. Their paws are furred between the pads (five on each foot); the claws are sharp, and not retractable. They swim well, climb trees easily, and run like small bolts of brown lightning.

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