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Desert Diary


Looking for a fashionable, svelte figure? Look to the weasel family. Built like over-ambitious dachshunds, the weasels make tall, thin fashion models look positively bloated. It's all for a good purpose, of course. These predatory creatures specialize in going into burrows to seek out their prey. By being built long and thin, these carnivores can fit into the burrows of smaller, weaker defenders with little risk of serious resistance.

Of course, burrowing animals come in various sizes, and a small weasel venturing into a large burrow is apt to come face to face with a formidable foe. The weasel family has solved this, though, the various species tailor-made by natural selection for prey of various sizes. Thus the Black-footed Ferret, a large weasel, slips easily into prairie dog burrows; our own, medium-sized Chihuahuan Desert Long-tailed Weasels fit nicely into the tunnels of ground squirrels; and the more northern Least Weasel is any mouse's worst nightmare. You may hear it bandied about that one size fits all, but even the dumbest weasel knows better than that!
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Blackfooted Ferret at mouth of a burrow

A Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes) at the mouth of a burrow. Photograph by Tami S. Black, courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.