Stoat or Ermine (Mustela erminea), Fig. 11. This beautiful little animal is the Mus Ponticus of Pliny, and in habits very similar to the common weasel, hence, by some, considered to do as much good as harm, and should be included in the "Partly Useful and Partly Injurious" section. In summer it is of a light ferruginous or chestnut-brown colour over the head, back, sides, and upper half of the tail; the under part is nearly of a pure white, the lower portion of the tail becomes gradually darker, till at the extremity it is quite black. The fur is short, soft, and silky. In its winter coat it is pure white over the whole body, the lower part of tail only retaining its dark colour, and at this time the fur is much longer, finer, and thicker than in summer. The fur is in great request, formerly as insignia of kings, and is still used by judges.

The stoat frequents woods, copses, and hedgebanks, also barns and outhouses. It feeds on mice and rats and voles, soon clearing infested places of these pernicious depredators, being among the deadliest and most persevering of small rodent enemies. Hares may not often fall victims to its rapacity, but it is a terrible enemy to rabbits, and has a particular penchant for young pheasants and other winged game, not even sparing the brooding pheasant or partridge, and a great devourer of eggs. In the henroost and dovecot it is very destructive, its ravages outweighing the services rendered by destroying rodents in the hedgebanks in summer and stackyards in winter. The stoat, like most of the weasel family, hunts by "nose," following the scent of rats or rabbits with the greatest pertinacity. It is also capable of climbing trees, capturing unwary birds, and robbing nests of young and eggs. Frequenting stream-banks in quest of brown rats as well as water voles, the stoat often takes to the water, swimming with ease and rapidity.

Fid. 11.   The Stoat or Ermine.

Fid. 11. - The Stoat or Ermine.