“Pop Goes the Weasel”

Kaitlyn Gilligan SCA New Hampshire Corps- Discover the Power of Parks Interpretive Ranger

Lonesome Lake is one of my favorite hikes at Franconia Notch State Park. It is a beautiful lake surrounded by amazing scenery and a boardwalk to sit and rest on. Now as if there weren’t enough reasons you should visit it, I found another one. As I was walking around the lake, this bright beady-eyed Short-tailed Weasel was playing peek-a-boo with me.

Ermine are little weasels that are brown in the summertime and white in the winter. Because winter in New England can be brutal these creatures have adapted to go through 2 complete molts every year. This means that all their brown hair falls out and are replaced by white hairs. This obviously helps to camouflage them in the winter but it does more than that. This change also helps retain their body heat. How you ask? White is the absence of pigment, the cells in white fur are filled with air, this trapped air in addition to the air trapped between the fur provides greater insulation, just like a thicker down jacket. This weasel can replace all of its fur in a one-month span which is pretty impressive. Unlike another mammal, the Snowshoe Hare, which takes 3 months to molt. They look pretty funny in the springtime if you’re lucky enough to see one. The only thing that does not turn white on the Ermine’s body is the little black tip on their tail. Some believe they use it as a decoy, the predator will go after the black tip and not the body, this enables the weasel to escape. 


Ermine in winter coat. Photograph by Dan Blanchette
Short-tailed weasel around Lonesome Lake in summer coat

The Ermine is not only cute, it is a fierce predator. It is the smallest of the world’s true carnivores. It is only six and a half to eight inches long including the tail. Don’t be fooled by their size, they can kill mice, voles, rats and even chickens if they get the chance. One of the reasons farmers hate weasels, is that they will go into their chicken coup to find their flock dead. However, these weasels are not killing for fun, it is their instinct. Winter is a tough time for weasels and they are usually are on the verge of starvation, they have to kill as much prey as they can find in order to survive. Although weasels will kill poultry on occasion, they are a very important means of controlling the mice, rats and other rodents.  

Weasels seem to have little innate fear of humans which is how I got these lovely photos. I was on my hike around lonesome lake around 5:00pm and “Pop Goes the Weasel”. This ermine was very curious and would pop up and down multiple times with its bright beady eyes before he scurried off. He definitely made my day better and I hope when you see one it will make your day too. 


Discover Power of Parks SCA Interpreters

Discover the Power of Parks is presented by New Hampshire State Parks in collaboration with the Student Conservation Association and AmeriCorps and made possible by generous financial support from Eversource. The program offers a look into the natural world through hands-on programming. Interpretive programs focus on connecting participants with nature and building appreciation for New Hampshire's unmatched natural heritage. Programs include guided hikes, interpretive tours, and imaginative environmental workshops for children and families. Programs are offered free to guests with paid park admission fee. No pre-registration is required.

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