Updated: Nov 17, 2019
The origin of the word ‘Stoat’ is uncertain, but one theory, and my favourite, is that it comes from the Dutch word ‘stout’, meaning ‘naughty’. Now, the Naughty is my kind of animal, and not just for its name. We have plenty of Naughtys running about here at Manor Bottom, and it is always fascinating to watch them, even when they are neck deep into a rabbit.
Just last week I came down the stairs to see my kids sitting in the window seat avidly watching something going on outside. I went over to look and saw the spectacle – a rabbit vainly trying to hop away from its, much smaller, predator, a stoat. The latter was latched on to the neck of the rabbit, teeth sunk as deep as possible into the nape of the neck. As the rabbit weakens is hopped less, cried less, and gave in to its fate. This, actually, can take a while, as the stoat’s teeth are designed for smaller prey, so can’t quite reach the spinal column of the rabbit – the stoat just gnaws away, the rabbit dies of shock! Yes, it is a sad sight, especially as the stoat won’t actually eat more than a section on the rabbit, leaving the rest as carrion, but it is also very impressive watching such a formidable creature take a much larger one. And my son enthusiastically described the dance the stoat had just performed, not understanding why the rabbit didn’t run away, rather than sit there as if transfixed by the sight. But the stoat dance is mesmerising – I can’t blame the rabbit for sitting there motionless asking itself ‘what the f**k?’ and not finding an answer until it is too late. Following up the dance with a chase and catch like this is pretty remarkable!
There are a few other things I admire stoats for also.
They have non-retractable claws! Why bother retracting huh? Stay tooled!
A poor creature can’t escape a stoat by diving down its hole – the stoat’s long and wiry body allows it to operate below the ground just as easily as above. It’ll follow you down!
Then the stoat will take the burrow. It can’t be bothered to build its own – it’ll just have the victim’s. What’s more, it’ll use the skins and fur of those victims to line the burrow! Cosy!
In some countries’ folklore, stoats were believed to hold the souls of infants who died before baptism. Just creepy! I think this just tells us that those countries’ folklore is just seriously messed up!
Copulation lasts for an hour or so. Must be the non-retractable claws!
Males play no part in rearing the young. OK, don’t get me wrong…just sometimes seems like a good idea!
Females, if the winter looks like it’ll be too severe weather-wise, can reabsorb embryos, even of the entire litter. If they go ahead then the babies, called kits, are born blind, deaf, and toothless. They only open their eyes after six weeks or so, and as their fur is not yet thick, they all huddle together for warmth when the mother is absent.
Cute, deadly and impressive huh? Couldn’t’ think of too many songs that mention stoats but here are few, let me know if you got any more!
Stoat, by Peter Buckley Hill, of course!
Beastie Boys – Michelle’s Farm
The Dubliners – Rocky Road to Dublin – OK, OK this mentions stout rather than stoat, but I’m counting it anyway!