Saturday, March 19, 2011

in defense of weasels

Fierce, agile, persisent, adept and successful hunters, weasels have gotten a bad rap from humans. When someone calls someone else a "weasel" it is never a compliment.

Gerry Rising in a 1999 Buffalo News column explains the bad press: "We now use the word "weasel" as synonymous with "betray secrets" or "squeal." This is a derived meaning; in England "to weasel" earlier meant "to extract race-track tips." "Weasel words" are those whose meaning is twisted, usually for self-serving purposes, like "popularly priced" -- popular to the seller probably. Carolyn King believes that this expression came to us from Shakespeare's reference to weasels sucking eggs. Thus weasel words are words with their normal meaning sucked dry. (Note that weasels neither suck eggs nor blood -- another negative piece of folklore -- because they lack the jaw musculature to do so.) "

From The Natural History of Weasels and Stoats: Ecology, Behavior, and Management the authors note "weasels appear only rarely in animal fiction stories for children and they are usually treated as thieves, robbers or other bad characters. They are the villains of traditional nature stories..."

"to "weasel out" of some responsibility or tight situation is to escape by cunning but unfair means"

The wily weasel has been bad mouthed for hundreds of years in European and American history. Currently maligned in New Zealand, Stoats were brought in yet are now considered a pest.

Also from the Natural History book: "Where weasels of any species have been introduced into countries outside their natural range, such as New Zealand, they enter natural communities as destructive aliens. Native species that had never previously met a weasel or a stoat are very vulnerable to them, and in these places negative attitudes to exotic species are warranted (Chapter 13). Even so, conservationists battling against the depredations of introduced stoats in New Zealand often admit a grudging admiration for th energy, speed and skill of their little adversary."

2009 Scientific American article advises "Stoats, also known as ermines or weasels, were first introduced to New Zealand in the 19th century to combat another introduced species, the rabbit, which has caused great environmental damage throughout Australia and New Zealand. But the stoat stubbornly refused to restrict its diet to rabbits, and defenseless young kiwi chicks make attractive meals." Oooopsie NZ!

children's book "Sneaky Weasel"

In Canada, the weasel "hunts for rabbits, rats, birds, frogs, ground squirrels and pika ( a small rodent that lives in the mountains) . It eats hundreds of meadow mice. Weasels that live in the north also feed on Arctic hare and lemming.

The weasel can find the open entrance to an animal's tunnel and hunt the animal underground.

The weasel ususally hunts at night. It kills its prey by biting it at the back of the neck.

Chicken farmers do not like the weasel. It can kill several chickens at a time. But weasels are useful animals because they eat many rats and mice."

the "Weasel gang" from movie "Who framed Roger Rabbit?"
So what is the truth about weasels? Since I'm not currently a chicken farmer or a NZ bird savior trying to save flightless birds, I personally think weasels are gorgeous creatures not worthy of contempt heaped upon them. It would be really cool to have a Ferret as a pet! All weasels have their place in the nature as vermin hunters. More from the Natural History book:

"They are among the purest of carnivores, perfectly adapted in every feature of their bodies and behavior to live exclusively as hunters."

"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."

"These adaptations add up to a design for an effective mouse-harvesting machine that humans can only envy."

The Oregonian blog thinks Weasels don't deserve a bad reputation: "Pity the poor weasel, whose name so often gets dragged in the mud. Lawyers, politicians, government bureaucrats -- they've all been compared to weasels in overheated rhetoric."

Man anthropomorphizes weasels in attempts to belittle and decry man. But there seems to be a slight problem with the analogy and I recommend leaving the perfectly suited, cute, wily little hunter animal out of it.

Go hunt down sneaky humans who are robbers, thieves or other bad characters.
Go hunt people who lie, escape situations and are not held accountable for their actions.
Go hunt corrupt lawyers, self serving politicians and elitist, money grubbing government bureaucrat types who are the real vermin, rats and undesirables on the planet.

Find your inner weasel and chase down as many rats you can... and for pete's sake, get your analogies strait already! ;)

These two sites, however, are very good and worth checking out if you haven't seen:
Weasel Zippers
Watcher of Weasels (with contributor NewZeal)

(suggestion: rename to 'Vermin Zippers' or 'Watcher of Vermin' ? Just my $0.02)

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