Weasels are small mammals that are found in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa. They live in a wide range of habitats – including woodlands, marshes, moors, grasslands, and urban areas. Weasels are typically red or brown with white bellies. They are best known for their elongated body shape and short legs. They are also well known for attacking poultry – something which tends to earn them pest status. Given this and their small stature, one of the most frequently asked questions is, “are weasels rodents?”
This article will find out what exactly makes a rodent a rodent. We’ll also learn about weasels, how they are classified, and who their nearest relatives are. We’ll discuss their teeth and how they have adapted so well to their diet and method of killing their prey. So, join us as we discover whether weasels are rodents or not!
What are Rodents?
Rodents are some of the most diverse and widely distributed mammals globally. More than 40% of all mammals in the world are rodents. They are extremely adaptable and live in a wide range of habitats everywhere in the world except Antarctica. Some of the habitats they are found in include forests, mountainous regions, deserts, wetlands, and urban areas.
Most rodents have short, stocky bodies with short limbs and long tails. However, the main defining feature of rodents is their teeth. All rodents share the same characteristic of four (two upper and two lower) incisor teeth which never stop growing. As a consequence of these ever-growing teeth, rodents must gnaw continually to prevent them from becoming too long for their mouths. One of the main things that rodents chew on is wood and bark, along with the range of food that they eat. The majority of rodents are herbivores and eat a variety of fruit, seeds, nuts, and grains. However, a smaller number of them are omnivores and also eat insects and other small animals.
You might be wondering how rodents manage to do so much chewing without their teeth becoming blunt and ineffective, but they actually have a pretty clever solution – self-sharpening teeth. That’s right, rodents’ teeth are always super sharp. This is because of what they are made from and the way they wear down. Rodents’ teeth have super tough enamel on the front of them and softer dentin on the rear. As they are chewing, the dentin wears down quicker than the enamel. This creates a unique chisel-shaped edge that is constantly sharp.
Are Weasels Rodents?
Weasels are not rodents. There are a lot of differences between them. Weasels and rodents are not related and are from completely different orders. They have different-shaped bodies and completely different teeth. Weasels and rodents have very different diets, and rodents are actually on the menu for weasels!
Who’s the Family?
Weasels and rodents are also classified differently as they belong to completely different orders and family groups. Rodents are members of the Rodentia order, which is the largest order of mammals in the world, with more than 2,000 different species. Members of the Rodentia order include animals such as capybaras (the largest rodents in the world), beavers, chinchillas, porcupines, voles, muskrats, and squirrels.
Weasels are from the Carnivora order, which is the fifth-largest order of mammals and includes 280 different species. Members of the Carnivora order are specialized meat-eaters – hence the term “carnivore.” The majority of animals in this order have a diet made up almost entirely of meat – weasels included. However, some members – such as raccoons and bears – are omnivores. The Carnivora order is a diverse group of animals, and its members are found in a wide range of habitats, both on the land and in the sea. Animals such as seals, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, bears, and wolves are all members of this order.
Additionally, weasels are from the Mustelidae family group, which includes polecats, ferrets, mink, skunks, badgers, and otters. However, it is collectively known as “the weasel family.” Mustelidae is the largest family in the Carnivora order, with around 70 species. All members share the same characteristics of an elongated body with short legs, round ears, and thick fur. Most members also have anal scent glands, which they use for marking their territory. The most notable member is the skunk which uses its strong-smelling spray as a defense mechanism. Although the term “weasel” is often used to describe all members of the Mustela genus, there are around ten different species with “weasel” in their name. The smallest is the least weasel which is between 4 and 10 inches long, while the largest is the long-tailed weasel which is 12 to 14 inches long.
What Different Teeth they have
We’ve already talked about how rodents’ constantly growing incisors are what sets them apart as rodents. However, as weasels are not rodents, they have very different teeth. For a start, their teeth don’t grow continually throughout their lives, and they also have four canine teeth, which rodents lack. These canines are very sharp and pointy and are used for biting and killing prey. Weasels are strong and aggressive hunters and are known for frequently attacking prey that are much bigger than they are. Therefore, it’s important that their teeth are capable of inflicting a swift and lethal bite – usually to the back of the neck or to the throat.
Weasels also have other teeth which are specially adapted to their meat-eating diet, and these teeth are known as carnassial teeth. Carnassial teeth are blade-like teeth that work as a shearing action to chew and slice through prey. They are incredibly sharp and, in most mustelids, are the last upper molar and first lower molar teeth. Additionally, weasels have a broad diet that includes several rodents. Their main diet consists of rats, mice, voles, rabbits, birds, and bird eggs. Much like foxes, when food is plentiful, they will kill more than they need and store the leftovers in a cache in the ground.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Stephan Morris/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.