The Weasel Chronicles
It’s that time of year again! The cool, crisp mornings remind us that autumn has arrived. As summer tank-tops are replaced by warm, wool jackets and students begin to hunker down for midterms, I prep for something different. It’s the beginning of my field season.
My research revolves around the seasonal coat color molt, but more specifically, I am interested in how the seasonal coat color molt differs between sympatric coat color changing species (i.e. snowshoe hares and short-tailed weasels). The seasonal coat color molt occurs twice a year, once in autumn and once in spring (which just so happens to fall smack dab in the middle of the autumn and spring semester). During both seasons the molt initiates following a change in photoperiod. For example, in autumn, as day length shortens more than 20 species around the world begin to transform their appearance. Just as brown landscapes transform to winter wonderlands these species molt their summer brown coat for new winter white coats.
Weasels are notoriously difficult to study in the field and present many problems for biologists. We have overcome some of these difficulties by using non-invasive sampling. We place remote cameras over bait tubes, which allow us to photograph weasels as they visit our bait tubes. From these pictures we quantify the various stages of the weasel coat color molt and gain insight into the ecology of this elusive carnivore.
So, as many students head to class this autumn I’ll head to the woods. Although juggling classes and field work can be tough at times, field work is an essential part of wildlife biology. It’s also fun. It gives me a reason to leave the office, hone my tracking skills and explore new areas. So wish me luck as I set out to track and photograph weasels!
Brandon Davis, MS Student
In early autumn, larch begin to change color and lose needles
High mountain peaks are already blanketed with snow
Featured image - A short-tailed weasel with a vole.