Story last updated at 12/11/2013 - 3:17 pm
Ermine in their furry white coats are being spotted around Eaglecrest and other trails lately.
This little weasel actually isn’t being studied in Southeast Alaska right now, so not much is known about how strong their numbers are or other habits by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said ADF&G biologist Ryan Scott.
“It’s a species we don’t require a ceiling for,” he said. “They don’t have to check in the furs when they catch an ermine. We don’t even have any sense of what the harvest is other than anecdotal information people tell us, a well as observation of what folks like myself and my staff see out in the field.”
The department publishes an annual report, called the Alaska Trapper’s Report, which details information given to them from trappers via a yearly survey.
Ermine, according to that report, are common and have no change in their general population.
The small creature is a carnivore, and feasts on “just about anything they can get ahold of,” Scott said.
“I’m sure they’ll get into fish, small birds. A lot of times in urban areas they are a feaster of chickens. They’re really difficult to defend against because they’re so small. They can get through very small openings. You might get them in a chicken coop, cabin, things like that. I’ve seen one grab a whole blue jay, drag it off and devour it behind a tree.”
In the trapper’s report, ermine are ranked at No. 8 for trapping activity.
“They’re pretty low on the scale for folks that are out trapping these days.”
In the 2010-2011 season and reported in the 2011-12 report, 14 hides were transported out of the Juneau game management area. Compare that to the 59 martin hides and 36 otter hides and the ermine seem to have a lot less to worry about from human trappers.
If you’re looking to view these animals, you’ll have to look very closely.
“They are cryptic,” Scott said. “In summer they are brown, in winter they’re white. During the summer, if they’re not moving they’re tough to detect.”
According to AlaskaKids.org, the white weasel is nocturnal and a silent mover, which also makes them hard to spot. It says the weasel mates in spring and summer and that’s the only time the animal spends with others of its kind. The litter of babies is fully grown after a full year.
Juneau’s Bob Armstrong, a nature guru/wildlife photographer has run across some ermine but also had one little invader in his home — which is quite the tale.
His recollection of the event is published in Southeast Alaska’s Natural World, a book he authored with Marge Hermans in 2004.
The story goes, deer mice decided to take up residency in Armstrong’s home in large numbers one winter. He’d slowly been live-trapping them and getting rid of them, until one day when this white ermine showed up in the kitchen. It feasted on the mice and Armstrong was happy to have it in his home — until the day it tried to eat his pet parrot Raven. Armstrong eventually live trapped it by luring it with meatballs and released it miles away in the woods.
Apart from that incident, Armstrong has mostly just come across the weasels in the alpine in Juneau in the summer.
“I occasionally see them in the winter along shores,” he said. “I’ve seen a couple on the Mendenhall Wetlands on the dike. They’re beautiful in their white winter plumage. They seem to be always hunting voles and other small rodents.”
Sarah Day is the editor of Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.