Mustela nivalis 


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Mustelidae

Scientific Name: Mustela nivalis
Species Authority: Linnaeus, 1766
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Least Weasel, Weasel
French Belette d'Europe
Spanish Comadreja
Taxonomic Notes: The North American population sometimes is treated as a separate species, Mustela rixosa (Wozencraft 2005).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Tikhonov, A., Cavallini, P., Maran, T., Kranz, A., Herrero, J., Giannatos, G., Stubbe, M., Conroy, J., Kryštufek, B., Abramov, A., Wozencraft, C., Reid, F. & McDonald, R.
Reviewer(s): Duckworth, J.W. (Small Carnivore Red List Authority) & Schipper, J. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)
This species is listed as Least Concern in view of its wide distribution, presumed large population, occurrence in a number of protected areas, tolerance to some degree of habitat modification, and because it is unlikely to be declining at nearly the rate required to qualify for listing in a threatened category.
Previously published Red List assessments:
1996 Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: This species has a circumboreal, Holartcic distribution, taking in much of Europe and North Africa, Asia and northern North America. It has been introduced in New Zealand, Malta, Crete, the Azore Islands, and apparently also Sao Tome off west Africa (Sheffield and King 1994). It is found throughout Europe and on many islands, including the Azores, Britain (but not Ireland), and all major Mediterranean islands. The populations on the Azores and Mediterranean islands (Malta and Crete) are widely considered introduced (Dobson, 1998; McDonald pers. comm.). It is also found on Honshu, Hokkaido, Kunashiri, Etorofu, and Sakhalin Islands in Japan (Abe et al., 2005) and northern Mongolia (Bannikov, 1954; Dulamtseren, 1970).
Countries occurrence:
Afghanistan; Albania; Algeria; Andorra; Armenia (Armenia); Austria; Azerbaijan; Belarus; Belgium; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Bulgaria; Canada; China; Croatia; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Iraq; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Korea, Republic of; Kyrgyzstan; Latvia; Lebanon; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of; Malta; Moldova; Monaco; Mongolia; Montenegro; Morocco; Netherlands; Norway; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russian Federation; San Marino; Serbia (Serbia); Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Syrian Arab Republic; Tajikistan; Turkey; Turkmenistan; Ukraine; United Kingdom; United States (Georgia); Uzbekistan; Viet Nam
New Zealand
Upper elevation limit (metres): 3860
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: In the European part of its range, there are documented population declines in some areas (e.g. Britain: Battersby, 2005), and suspected declines in others. Although it has a wide distribution, it is considered rare in North America (Sheffield and King, 1994). In Eurasia, it is relatively common, but not often seen (Sheffield and King, 1994). Local densities of 0.2 to 1.0 individuals per hectare can occur in favored habitats when prey are abundant (Sheffield and King, 1994). However, over wider areas, the average density may be as low as 1 to 7 per 100 hectares (Goszczynski, 1977). Populations fluctuate both seasonally and annually, sometimes involving large increases of up to 10-fold, concurrently or within 9 months of a population peak of small rodents, and lasting 6 to 18 months (Sheffield and King, 1994). Thought to be rare (though sometimes locally fairly common) throughout the range in the southeastern U.S., but actual status is uncertain (Handley 1991).
Current Population Trend: Stable
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented: No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Weasels tolerate a wide range of habitats, including forests, farmlands and cultivated fields, grassy fields and meadows, riparian woodlands, hedgerows, alpine meadows and forests, scrub, steppe and semi-deserts, prairies, and coastal dunes (Sheffield and King, 1994; Pulliainen, 1999). This species occurs from sea level to at least 3,860 m. It forms dens in crevices among tree roots, in hollow logs, or in abandoned burrows of other species. This species is a specialist diurnal predator of small mammals (especially rodents), although it will also occasionally feed on birds’ eggs, lizards, frogs, salamanders, fish, worms, and carrion (Sheffield and King, 1994). Food may be stored for the winter (Danzig, 1992). Habitat selection is usually determined by local distribution of rodents. Foraging individuals avoid open spaces, where they are most vulnerable to predation by raptors (Sheffield and King, 1994). They prefer dense, rank grassland where microtines (voles and lemmings) are abundant (McDonald pers. comm.).
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Threats include incidental poisoning with rodenticides (Sheffield and King, 1994) and persecution. The weasel prefers open agricultural habitats, which are declining owing to changes in agricultural practices (rural abandonment) in parts of Europe, as open fields undergo succession.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species is found in many protected areas. It is listed on Appendix III of the Bern Convention (Pulliainen, 1999), and is protected under national and sub-national legislation in a number of range states (e.g. Sichuan, China: Yi-Ming et al., 2000). Monitoring is required to quantify the population trend in Europe.

Classifications [top]

1. Forest -> 1.1. Forest - Boreal
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
1. Forest -> 1.2. Forest - Subarctic
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
1. Forest -> 1.4. Forest - Temperate
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
3. Shrubland -> 3.3. Shrubland - Boreal
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
3. Shrubland -> 3.4. Shrubland - Temperate
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
4. Grassland -> 4.2. Grassland - Subarctic
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
4. Grassland -> 4.4. Grassland - Temperate
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
4. Grassland -> 4.5. Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
suitability: Suitable  
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.3. Wetlands (inland) - Shrub Dominated Wetlands
suitability: Suitable  
0. Root -> 6. Rocky areas (eg. inland cliffs, mountain peaks)
suitability: Suitable  
13. Marine Coastal/Supratidal -> 13.3. Marine Coastal/Supratidal - Coastal Sand Dunes
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.1. Artificial/Terrestrial - Arable Land
suitability: Suitable  
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.2. Artificial/Terrestrial - Pastureland
suitability: Suitable  
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.4. Artificial/Terrestrial - Rural Gardens
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.5. Artificial/Terrestrial - Urban Areas
suitability: Suitable  
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:Yes, over entire range
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.2. Unintentional effects (species is not the target)
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.3. Persecution/control
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

7. Natural system modifications -> 7.3. Other ecosystem modifications
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

Bibliography [top]

Abe, H., Ishii, N., Ito, T., Kaneko, Y., Maeda, K., Miura, S. and Yoneda, M. 2005. A Guide to the Mammals of Japan. Tokai University Press, Kanagawa, Japan.

Bannikov, A. G. 1954. Mammals of the Mongolian People’s Republic. Nauka, Moscow, Russia.

Danzig, T. 1992. Biological Values for Selected Mammals. American Association of Zoo Keepers Inc, Kansas, USA.

Dobson, M. 1998. Mammal distributions in the western Mediterranean: the role of human intervention. Mammal Review 28: 77-88.

Dulamtseren, S. 1970. Guide Book of the Mammals in Mongolia. Publishing House of the Mongolian Academy of Science, Ulaanbaatar.

Goszczynski, J. 1977. Connections between predatory birds and mammals and their prey. Acta Theriologica 22: 399-430.

Handley Jr., C. O. 1991. Mammals. McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.

IUCN. 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available at: (Accessed: 5 October 2008).

Li, Y.M., Gao, Z., Li, X., Wang, S. and Jari, N. 2000. Illegal wildlife trade in the Himalayan region of China. Biodiversity and Conservation 9: 901–918.

Pulliainen, E. 1999. Mustela nivalis. In: A. J. Mitchell-Jones, G. Amori, W. Bogdanowicz, B. Kryštufek, P. J. H. Reijnders, F. Spitzenberger, M. Stubbe, J. B. M. Thissen, V. Vohralík and J. Zima (eds), The Atlas of European Mammals, Academic Press, London, UK.

Sheffield, S. R. and King, C. M. 1994. Mustela nivalis. Mammalian Species 454: 1-10.

Citation: Tikhonov, A., Cavallini, P., Maran, T., Kranz, A., Herrero, J., Giannatos, G., Stubbe, M., Conroy, J., Kryštufek, B., Abramov, A., Wozencraft, C., Reid, F. & McDonald, R. 2008. Mustela nivalis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T14021A4383128. . Downloaded on 28 June 2016.
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