100 Days Of Blogging #30 – My Friend The Stoat

I saw a stoat the other week. It was a fleeting moment, like, mere seconds, but I’m still carrying the magic of it with me. I whispered, ‘be safe, friend,’ as it threw itself away from the footpath and bounded into the woodland. 

I said ‘be safe’ primarily because the stoat was fleeing into woodland where, a week previous, I’d had a run-in with a gamekeeper who told me I was walking on private land. He was narrow-eyed with suspicion when I started asking questions about the traps I saw laid out. 

When I enquired about what they were for, he said ‘stoats.’ I said, ‘that’s a shame.’ He wasn’t best pleased when I said that and told me they’d massacre everything if they weren’t killed. I don’t agree that they would and I hope my slinky friend is still alive as I write this. 

I think about the stoat I met most days, and last night it occurred to me that I don’t know much about stoats. (Says she who worships nature.) For example, I always thought weasels were larger. Like, considerably so. But they’re not. A weasel can fit its head through a wedding ring. But a stoat? Not a chance.

A weasel is typically 20–27cm long. Even a hefty male is unlikely to weigh more than 195g. A small female may be just 50g. On the other hand, a stoat weighs between 140g to 445g and measures 19-32cm for a male and 17-27cm for a female. I enjoyed the description discoverwildlife.com gave stoats: ‘long and lithe; roughly the size of a thin rat.’ 

Native to the UK, they usually don’t survive beyond two years. (There’s something immeasurably sad about that.) And they were almost driven to extinction in the 1950s when myxomatosis was introduced.

When they’re born, they’re toothless, blind, deaf and barely furred. A neat, straight line seperates their creamy underside from the brown fur of their top part. It’s illegal to kill a stoat in Ireland, but, as the gamekeeper was insistent I understand, it’s legal to kill them in the UK. 

Stoats, though small, can bring down prey ten times their size – a rabbit, for example – with a single bite to the back of the neck. Stoats will often mesmerise their prey with a ‘dance,’ as this Nat Geo WILD video shows with over-exaggerated dramatics and music that’ll make your eyes roll. There’s some Attenborough beneath it to set the world to rights.     

I thoroughly enjoyed this insight into the stoat’s dance from a post on the blog amayodruid.blogspot.com

Well documented also is the stoat’s whirling Dervish-like dance that mesmerises other animals until it darts forward and seizes one. Slightly less explicable is the dance that witnesses have reported the stoat performing as if in triumph over its already dispatched prey: “It ran round and round the dead bird,” wrote one, “sometimes almost turning head over heels; then it would break away and race off into the bushes, then back out again.” Stranger still is the fact that stoats carry their dead – appearing soon after one of their kind has been killed to drag the corpse into a hiding place.

Silent Own

In my hunt for knowledge about the stoat, I learned some random yet fascinating titbits, which will, undoubtedly, come in useful when I’m struggling for conversation starters on dates in the future. I learned, for example, that in Irish mythology, a stoat’s saliva was said to be able to poison a grown man. Also, the ceremonial robes worn in the House of Lords and the academic hoods of Oxford and Cambridge are traditionally lined with the white winter fur of ermine (another name for stoat). Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation robes were made with ermine, as were King Charles when he was made the Prince of Wales. Though there’s a rumour that Charles has insisted that he wants ‘faux-fur’ for his coronation in May.

I go down many rabbit holes when researching. Most of them turn up at the same place, but occasionally, I’m led to the most enriching places. On Pinterest, when I was searching for stoat art to accompany this post, I happened up the work of Sarah Gillespie. I clicked on her drawing of a dead stoat and was led to a beautifully crafted blog post about her experience of drawing a dead stoat. 

Like me, Sara noticed that she ‘knew nothing about stoats,’ but after hours of drawing, she found herself beguiled by her and felt a ‘deep love.’ She buried the stoat, with gratitude, in the compost heap. 

I saw my stoat friend for a few seconds, but I love the little beast. I love it like I love the moon in all its phases. Like I love the frost that greets me with its startling sparkle. Like I love the snowdrops that shiver in their little white caps. I love nature and her wonders, and I love that others love her too and share this love for others, like me, to gladly stumble into and find unity with.

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