17 July 2011 ~ 1 Comment

How To Identify Stoats And Weasels

look out for dangers
Creative Commons License photo credit: markus.hoppe

The mustelids are a group of mammals which in the UK include badgers, otters, polecats, stoats and weasels. Of these the greatest problems with identification seem to be how to tell a weasel from a stoat and so I thought a few pointers may come in useful.

Fortunately once you know the differences between these otherwise superficially similar animals it is actually quite easy to tell them apart though of course you have to remember which one is which!


Alaska Weasel
Creative Commons License photo credit: Cecil Sanders

Weasels are surprisingly small mammals despite their fearsome reputation as talented hunters of small rodents. They typically reach a body length of around 8 inches long and in cross section are rarely larger than a mouse. The general shape is one of a small, long, wavy mammal with a short tail.

Weasels are carnivores like stoats and will eat anything they can catch which often means small rodents like mice and voles. Their small body means they struggle to catch anything larger but it also means they are able to follow their prey into tiny holes where a mammal like a stoat would struggle to fit.

Weasels may be seen in a range of habitats including woodland and wild meadows and I even saw one last year hiding under a bush in a National Trust garden as dozens of visitors unknowingly walked within a couple of feet of it.


Stoats are much larger than weasels and may grow to become the size of a small adult ferret with a body length around 16 inches. The tail is also a very useful tip for identification because unlike the weasels it typically has a black tip on it.

In my experience, while I have seen both mammals on many occasions the stoat, being rather larger and bolder, is far more likely to be seen.

In addition the stoat’s larger size means it is able to take correspondingly larger prey with rabbits being well within it’s reach. This means they may be seen hunting on open grassland sometimes and if you are downwind of them you can watch their amazingly quick and acrobating hunting technique.

In photographs these two mammals appear very similar indeed but remember the old adage of a “sizable stoat and a wee weasel” to remember that the stoat is much larger and keep an eye out for that black tail. Those two elements combined are normally enough to safely identify these mammals even at a glance, such as when one ducks across a footpath in the countryside some distance ahead of you.

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28 April 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Identifying British Deer

Britain has a rich number of different deer species which still astonishes me in such an “overcrowded” country with so few real wild places left but it seems many deer species are surviving alongside man without too many problems.

There are generally believed to be 6 species of deer in Britain at present. They are:

– Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)
– Fallow Deer (Dama dama)
– Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)
– Sika Deer (Cervus nippon)
– Muntjac Deer (Muntiacus reevesi)
– Chinese Water Deer (Hydropotes inermis)

Fortunately identifying these species and telling them apart is, in general, reasonably simple and so with only a tiny glimpse one can have a reasonable chance of a correct identification, particularly if you take into account the habitat in which you see a deer.

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)

Red Deer stag, Cervus elaphus on the south side of Beinn Eighe
Creative Commons License photo credit: Shandchem

Red deer are the largest deer in Britain and most frequently are found in “wilderness” areas most commonly the hills and glens of Scotland. Other populations do exist in the UK, such as in Norfolk and of course the semi-wild population in Richmond park.

The red deer has a characteristically shaped head and a thick, powerful neck while the males of course develop powerful antlers.

Fallow Deer (Dama dama)

Fallow Deer 1
Creative Commons License photo credit: ahisgett

Fallow deer are quite a bit smaller than red deer and more typically frequent broadleafed woodland than open hillsides. In colouration they may range between almost white right through to a melanistic version though a ginger colour with white spots on (classic Bambi) is the most common colour form seen.

The males develop characteristic antlers in the breeding season and fallow deer may often be seen grazing near woodlands in small groups. Two to five individuals is common though they may congregate in far larger groups of several dozen individuals in some situations.

Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)

(Competition Entry) ;)
Creative Commons License photo credit: Alasdair Middleton

The roe deer is probably Britains most common deer species and can be found in a wide range of habitats from woodland to grassland. The roe deer is characterized by a pale yellow or white rump which is typically seen disappearing into the distance as the roe deer gracefully hops away, and by the large black nose. Again, this is the deer you are most likely to see and may even be seen feeding near roads or on farmers fields where woodland cover isn’t too far away. The roe deer is normally solitary.

Sika Deer (Cervus nippon)

Sika stag on Brownsea Island
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ian D Nolan

The introduced sika deer is still reasonably rare so you are far less likely to encounter this species than other “British” deer. Also the habitat of this deer is characteristic as it prefers conifer forests and heathland. Whilst it does resemble a red deer to a degree, this species is typically smaller in size and the colour will normally help to separate the sika deer from other species as the coat is typically far darker appearing almost black in many cases.

Muntjac Deer (Muntiacus reevesi)

Creative Commons License photo credit: shimgray

The muntjac and chinese water deer are both small introduced species, typically around the size of a domestic cat or medium-sized dog though being far more delicate and elegant in appearance.

Whilst rumour has it that they escaped into the East Anglian fens originally both these deer species have spread rapidly and can be found in a wide range of habitats from wetlands through to many British woodlands.

Chinese Water Deer (Hydropotes inermis)

Chinese Water Deer (Hydropotes inermis)
Creative Commons License photo credit: cliff1066™

The chinese water deer can be identified by the elongated fangs present in the males of this species which are absent in the muntjac. Equally, the male muntjac has horns while the water deer does not and the appearance of the face is very different between the two species. Lastly, according to the British Deer Society, the chinese water deer is currently restricted to just Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

Why not leave me a comment and tell me what your favourite deer species is, and why?

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