Pine Marten vs Least Weasel: What’s the Difference?

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: September 11, 2022
Image Credit A-Z-Animals.com
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You’ve probably opened this page because you’ve spotted an animal resembling pine martens or least weasels and aren’t sure what it was. Or you’re just wondering how to distinguish between these two cute animals. If so, keep reading because we’ve compared pine martens and least weasels and highlighted the most important differences!

Comparing Pine Marten vs Least Weasel

Pine MartenLeast Weasel
SizeBody length: 16.5 – 20.5 inches
Tail length: 9 – 11 inches
Weight: 1 – 3 pounds
Body length: 4.5 – 10 inches
Tail length: 0.5 – 3.4 inches
Weight: 1.0 – 8.8 ounces
Appearance– Has a yellow mark on the throat;
– Short in the summer, longer in the winter; 
– Light to dark brown fur;
– Small, rounded ears, small, dark eyes, semi-retractable claws, sharp teeth
– Thin, elongated body; small, dark eyes; 
– Short legs and tail; dark-colored claws; 
– Extremely strong bite force; 
– Short, dense fur during winter and short, sparse, and rough during summer
ClassificationKingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Mustelidae
Genus: Martes
Species: Martes martes
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Mustelidae
Genus: Mustela
Species: Mustela nivalis
Distribution and habitat– Europe, Asia Minor, the Caucasus, Iran, Iraq, Syria; 
– Wooded areas
– Europe, North Africa, North America, and Asia;
– Has been introduced in many areas, such as Malta, Crete, and the Azores Islands;
– Lives in burrows in woodlands, grassy plains, and coniferous forests
DietOfficially classified as carnivores, but feed on fruits, nuts, honeyCarnivores
Predators and ThreatsOwl, red foxes, eagles, humansRed foxes, sables, stoats, eagles, owls; diseases
Behavior– Arboreal lifestyle, active at night and dusk; shy and solitary; highly territorialTerritorial species; vocal; active during the day and night
ReproductionSexual maturity: 2-3 years old
Gestation period: one month
Litter size: 5
Sexual maturity: 4 – 8 months old
Gestation period: 34 – 37 days
Litter size: 6
Conservation StatusLeast ConcernLeast Concern

The Key Differences Between Pine Martens and Least Weasels

Pine martens and least weasels have a similar body structure. However, many things can tell them apart, starting with the fact that least weasels are much smaller than pine martens. Even if they look similar at first glance, their bodies have many different specificities that can help you distinguish between them. Other dissimilarities include their diet, distribution, reproduction cycle, and lifespan.

Keep reading to learn more about the key differences between pine martens and least weasels!

Pine Marten vs Least Weasel: Size

Least weasels have a maximum weight of 8.8 ounces.

Keven Law / Creative Commons

Pine martens are considerably larger and heavier than least weasels. Their average length is 16.5 – 20.5 inches, plus another 9 – 11 inches from their tails. By contrast, the least weasels’ body length is 4.5 – 10 inches, which means they can be 4 – 5 times smaller than pine martens. Their tails are also very small, measuring, on average, 0.5 to 3.4 inches long.

While pine martens can reach 3 pounds, the maximum weight least weasels can have is 8.8 ounces, which equals 0.55 pounds, making them approximately four times lighter.

Pine Marten vs Least Weasel: Appearance

Both animals change their fur during winter and summer. Pine martens have long fur during winter and short one during summer. Least weasels have short fur during both winter and summer, but it’s dense when it’s cold and sparse and rough when it’s hot. 

The pine marten fur color ranges from light to dark brown with a distinctive white-yellowish mark on the throat. Least weasel fur color can vary from sandy to dark brown. Unlike pine martens, which only have a light spot on their necks, least weasels are white on the inner sides of the legs and their lower jaws. During winter, some least weasels become completely white.

Both animals have powerful teeth and claws. They have small, rounded ears and small, dark eyes. The least weasel is much more ferocious than the pine marten because its body and jaw/teeth structure “gifted” it a much stronger bite force than that of a lion, tiger, or bear. Just imagine an animal the size of a book having a stronger bite force than a huge lion!

Pine martens and least weasels have elongated bodies. Pine martens have longer legs and tails, however.

Pine Marten vs Least Weasel: Distribution

Least weasels are more widely distributed than pine martens. They’re both common in Europe. Besides Europe, pine martens can only be found in the Caucasus, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. On the other hand, least weasels are common in North Africa and some North American regions. They were also introduced in many other parts of the world, including New Zealand, the Azores Islands, and Japan

Both species are listed as Least Concern, which means their population is thriving regardless of their distribution. 

Pine Marten vs Least Weasel: Diet

Pine Marten drinking from a lake in the forest.
Pine martens feed on birds, insects, frogs, and small mammals.

Beata Farkas/Shutterstock.com

Pine martens and least weasels are carnivorous animals. Nevertheless, the diet of a least weasel is much more diverse than a pine marten’s because it has a very strong bite force and can kill animals like rabbits that are five to ten times heavier. 

Pine martens feed on birds, insects, frogs, and small mammals. Although they’re officially listed as carnivores, they can sometimes eat berries, nuts, or honey. They prefer hunting during the night. Their sensitive ears and sharp teeth are of great help in the process.

Least weasels primarily feed on mice, hamsters, pikas, field voles, and rabbits. Sometimes they eat frogs, small birds, or fish. Although it doesn’t happen often, least weasels are known to kill large animals, including hazel hens, hares, capercaillies, and large rabbits. They hunt both during the day and night. They use their teeth and jaws to kill the prey by biting their skulls or necks. 

Pine Marten vs Least Weasel: Reproduction

Least weasels reach sexual maturity much earlier than pine martens. Female least weasels reach sexual maturity when they’re approximately four months old, while males at approximately eight months. Pine martens can start reproducing when they’re 2 – 3 years old. 

Least weasels mate in April – July, while pine martens mate in July – August. The gestation period of a least weasel is 34 to 37 days, while that of a pine marten is shorter – approximately a month. Moreover, their litter size is also different: 6 kits for least weasels and 5 for pine martens. 

When they’re born, least weasels weigh 0.05 – 0.16 ounces, while pine martens weigh 1.1 ounces.

Pine marten vs Least Weasel: Lifespan

Beautiful pine marten on a branch in a tree.
A pine marten individual reached 18 years in captivity.

The lifespan of pine martens and least weasels is a confusing story because many individuals reached extraordinary ages, while others did not live more than 2-3 years. 

A pine marten individual reached 18 years in captivity, while the record lifespan in the wild is 11 years. Their average lifespan is still considered 3 to 4 years. So how did a pine marten live 11 years in the wild while others live only 3 – 4 years? It probably depends on the habitat, predators, threats, and diet. 

The same goes for least weasels. Some sources state they live 7 – 8 years on average. Others, however, mention that they rarely reach more than two years in the wild. The oldest weasels reach 5 – 6 years old. 

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Pine Marten vs Least Weasel

A-Z-Animals.com
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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on real estate, nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Available here: https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/education/Pages/WAWMLeastWeasel.aspx#:~:text=Young%20females%20attain%20sexual%20maturity,about%20eight%20months%20of%20age.
  2. Encyclopedia of Life, Available here: https://eol.org/pages/328586/articles