Species of the Day: Irish Stoat (Mustela erminea hibernica)

Irish Stoat

The Irish Stoat is a Mustelid that can be found all over the island of Ireland and also on the Isle of Man. The Irish Stoat is a separate sub-species to Stoats found elsewhere. One defining feature of the Irish Stoat is the irregular line between the brown upper body fur and the white underside, although a small percentage of Irish Stoats have been found to have a straighter dividing line. Apart from the brown fur on top and the white fur underneath, Irish Stoats have a black tipped tail, whilst they are also smaller and darker than other Stoat sub-species. Unlike stoats in more northern countries, the Irish stoat does not turn white in the winter. This is due to the lack of snow, meaning turning white would be counter-productive when hiding from predators!

Generally, Irish Stoats can be found in areas that provide sufficient cover, including woodlands, rubbish dumps and even in the burrows of other Irish animals, such as rats, rabbits and wood mice.

Irish Stoats mainly prey on mice, rats, rabbits, voles, birds and eggs, although they have been known to occasionally eat fruit and even fish on the seashore! The latter has led some to believe that the Irish Stoat may have been a coastal mammal once upon a time.

Young stoats are born in mid-spring. They reach full, adult size by early Autumn, with most of their growth occurring whilst still in the nest. Because of this, it is vital that there is an abundance of small prey that can be easily brought back to the nest. This will often result in females significantly increasing their home range in order to feed their young. Irish Stoats in the north of the country tend to be notably smaller in size than their southern counterparts. This can be attributed to a higher abundance of prey and, also a smaller amount of weasels.

 

Conservation Status: 

Once considered a vermin species, the Irish Stoat is now legally protected under the Wildlife Act 1976, the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 and Appendix III of the Berne Convention.

There is no information on the current number of Irish Stoats in the country, however the Irish Stoat can be found all throughout the island. In general, the stoat population varies according to the availability of prey. This is particularly true of rabbits. Many of the Irish Stoat populations will feed mainly on rabbits, therefore, outbreaks of diseases in rabbit populations, such as myxomatosis, can have a detrimental effect on local Stoat populations. Irish Stoats often feed on birds and their eggs. This can be a problem when it comes to chickens and game birds. Now that Stoats are a protected species, the most common protection for chickens etc. are fences.

 

Interesting Facts: 

Big Appetites: Due to their body shape and high metabolism, Stoats must eat up to 20% of their bodyweight each day in order to maintain a healthy weight!

Fearless: Stoats are known as formidable predators, and for their small size (weighing up to 400/450g) they have been known to take on animals more than twice their size!

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