Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! Goes the weasel.
Dating back to 1850’s England this catchy tune has been a popular nursery rhythm in American culture
But even if current versions have been heavily Americanized the tune and phrase ‘Pop! Goes the weasel’ seem to have remained intact.
The ‘weasel’ referred to however, bears little resemblance to the furry creature we usually think of. It likely was a tradesman’s tool, though there seems to be no consensus on which one, and the term ‘pop’ frequently referred to the act of pawning an item for cash.
Washington state is home to several varieties of weasel including some found nowhere else in the world.
Weasels are carnivores in the same family as mink and ferrets. This family comprises the largest group of carnivores on the planet and includes wolverines, raccoons, badgers, otters, stoats and, ermine.
The long-tailed weasel is found throughout North America and is the one you will most likely encounter in Washington. This weasel has a camel colored under coat that extends from its chin to the base of its tail and a dark brown top coat that extends from its nose down the length of its tail which is tipped with a distinctive black fur. With a length between 11 and 13 1/2 inches, measured from nose to tail, these are among the largest of the weasels.
Long-tailed weasels are efficient predators evolved to eat rodents. An adult will consume about 1/3 of its body weight each day.
Often they will consume all of a mouse except the muzzle which has little nutritional value being mostly bone and cartilage. When our technicians find these macabre calling cards under homes they know immediately that a weasel has eliminated the mice from the home.
They also steal eggs and will prey on larger animals like rabbits and birds. They seldom consume much of the flesh from larger prey but prefer to sate themselves on its blood before abandoning the kill.
Weasels do not scavenge dead animals though they will occasionally cache food to be eaten later or to feed their young.
They do not hibernate but, instead grow a white winter coat and remain active pursuing rodents even under the snow pack.
Seldom staying in one location more than a few days they range widely in pursuit of prey. The exception is when they are raising young.
Like most carnivores they have scent glands that produce musk used to mark territory and attract mates. Unlike skunks and cats they do not spray their scent but rub it on surfaces with their bodies.
Weasels mate in late summer but females delay implantation of their eggs until spring. Gestation takes about 30 days and they bear their young between April and May. Litters typically produce between 5 and 8 kits which are weaned in about 5 weeks. At 3 months of age the young are capable of surviving on their own.
These animals are seldom found inhabiting homes except during the spring while raising young. An unsecured crawlspace with its fluffy insulation makes an attractive den and often comes with a ready supply of mice.
Though it is not advisable to allow animals to live under your home indefinitely, weasels cause minimal damage to insulation and will keep the home free of rodents while they are in residence.
Making repairs to exclude rodents will also exclude weasels. If a weasel does set up housekeeping under your home it will usually leave as soon as the young can fend for themselves. Efforts to exclude them from a crawlspace should not be performed until late fall to avoid orphaning and starving the young and care should be taken to insure the animal isn’t stranded in the crawlspace. Weasels are extremely beneficial and every effort should be made to avoid killing them.■