Stoats belong to the same mustelid family of animals as weasels and ferrets. They’re bigger than weasels and smaller than ferrets. Stoats were introduced to New Zealand in the 1884 to control rabbits and hares. Scientists and bird-lovers warned that they would be a danger to our native birds, but their warnings were ignored.
Just 6 years after stoats were introduced to New Zealand, people started noticing that there were fewer birds to be seen.
Stoats are good at hunting…bad news for birds!
Stoats have very good eyesight, good hearing and a strong sense of smell. They move quickly and are good at climbing trees so they can eat baby birds and eggs in the nest. Stoats check every burrow and hollow they see and if they find a ground-nesting bird it has very little chance to escape.
A big problem with stoats is the size of their families. A mother stoat can have up to 12 babies at a time, but usually has 4-6 babies.
Stoats are good at traveling…they can spread everywhere!
Stoats can travel long distances very quickly. One young stoat traveled 70 km in just 2 weeks. They are also strong swimmers and can swim 1 km or more to reach islands.
Stoats are hard to stop
Stoats are clever and careful. They are very suspicious of baits and traps and so it is difficult to kill them.
Did you know?
- Stoats are born blind, deaf, toothless and covered in a very fine down.
- When they are 3 weeks old they get their baby teeth. They can eat solid food when they are 4 weeks old.
- Their eyes don’t open until they are 5-6 weeks old.
- They will drink their mother’s milk until they are about 12 weeks old.
- A female stoat can get pregnant when she is still a blind, deaf, toothless and naked baby – at only 2-3 weeks old.
- Even though she is pregnant, her babies won’t grow inside her until she is an adult. They will be born the following spring.
In countries with very cold, snowy winters, the fur of stoats turns white. This white fur is called ermine. It is very soft and thick and is used to make luxury fur coats. Wearing ermine fur is a symbol of royalty and high status.
Stoats can live just about anywhere…
Stoats can live just about anywhere in New Zealand – as long as they can find prey. The can live on beaches, farmland, dunes, tussock and in any kind of forest. They can even live above the treeline in remote high country. They are much more common in forests than ferrets.
About 40 North Island brown kiwi chicks are killed EVERY DAY by stoats. That’s 15,000 kiwi chicks killed every year. 6/10 of all North Island brown kiwi chicks are killed by stoats.
Stoats aren’t fussy eaters…
Their main prey are rats, mice, birds, rabbits, hares, possums and insects (particularly weta). Stoats will also eat lizards, freshwater crayfish, roadkill, hedgehogs and fish. If they get the chance, they’ll kill more than they need for food and hide the rest in their den to eat later. They can kill animals much bigger than themselves.