The stoat (Mustela erminea), also known as the Eurasian ermine, is a mustelid. In Europe, it can be found in rather cold or mountainous areas, above 1000 metres altitude. On the Chemin de Saint Guilhem, the stoat is present on the plateau of Aubrac, where it jumps nimbly along rivers. It enjoys particularly stone walls, hedges, and heaps of stones. This animal is not uncommon but it is a rather secretive animal. Diurnal in summer, more nocturnal in winter, it hunts in rodent burrows and screes, coming and going over and over.
In summertime, as it possesses a fur of chestnut color on the back and white-yellow on the abdomen, it can be confused with a weasel – although the black tip of its tail enables to distinguish it from this other species –, but in winter, the stoat has a white coat, which is a good camouflage in snowy landscapes. However, the change of colour occurs only if the weather is cold enough during the moult (at least 1°C). If the temperature is not cold enough, the fur may be of various colours.
The stoat doesn’t dig itself its bedding place, but it uses the burrows of the rodents it hunts, and covers the floor with the skins and furs of its preys.
If it hunts occasionnally birds, lizards or young rabbits, it eats mainly little rodents. That’s why the stoat is particularly useful to gardeners : in fact, it kills the water rats which devastate gardens in gnawing plant roots.
The species is not particularly endangered. However, it becomes rare in some areas because of the difficulty in finding a suitable habitat. The stoat depends on landscapes where it can find many hiding places and migration corridors, so that the animal is never exposed. The stoat hunts in fields. Its offspring are born in a nest made in branches or stones. In spring, the male travel long distances to find a female – this search is often dangerous, but easier if the animal can hide in hedges. So the species depends on natural and animal-friendly farming.