The Ermine is the northern weasel, a small short black tipped tailed furry creature. It is the most widely distributed of its kind, it is also known as the ‘stoat’ in Europe.
The Ermine got its name from its white fur coat even though the coat turns brown during the summer months.
The ermines have some unique adaptations, one of which is its reproductive cycle. It has a gestation period, which is considered among the longest reported in mammals, totaling a period of 280 days. The main reason for this is the delayed implantation or embryonic diapause.
Delayed implantation means that the fertilized egg is not implanted in the uterus immediately. Instead, it takes about a long time, and in the case of the ermine, it is about 10 months.
Scientists believe this adaptation is to adjust to the highly seasonal environment that these ermines live in.
Ermines also have a very sensitive olfactory system; their sense of smell is one of the most important to their survival, being the one thing they rely on to catch their prey.
This sense of smell is also, what helps them catch a mate, as well as the sex, health and age of its prey.
Their keen sense of smell compensates for their poor eyesight. However, their eyesight is only so during the day, as during the night they have powerful night vision.
Their vision is what scientists call ‘dichromatic color vision’. This means that they can identity long and short wave lengths of light, although they cannot make clear distinctions of the specific colors.
Their whiskers play an important role too. It gives them an added sense of touch.
The ermine, a close relative of the skunk, uses a similar technique to its cousin when alarmed, in that it releases a powerful and disgusting odor from its anus when alarmed by predators. This odor is so strong it drives predators away.
It adapts to its environment by blending in to its surroundings. During the summer, its coat is a rich medium brown, with an off-white belly. During the winter seasons this coat thickens, and changes to a clean white, allowing him to blend easily in to the snow.
The ermine handles the cold weather through the adaptation of its body size and length. Its body is thin and long, which means an increase of surface area to volume ratio. This releases more heat from the body.
This body shape also helps him during his hunt for food. He is a carnivorous mammal, and his long thin body allows him to follow burrowing animals into their burrows to hunt them down.
Its thick coat of fur also acts as insulation against the cold alpine weather. This allows him to hunt for prey under the snow. They are not fussy about what they eat, so they can adapt their diet to suit the area they live in.
Finally, the ermine’s short legs allow him to scurry across the ground in pursuit of its prey, and make him a superb swimmer, which also comes in handy when chasing prey.
They also have 34 very sharp teeth. This allows them to catch prey that is larger than they are.