What Do Stoats Eat?

stoat vs ferret
© Martin Prochazkacz/Shutterstock.com

Written by Volia Schubiger

Published: September 23, 2022

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Stoats are easily mistaken for weasels or ferrets at first glance. However, this assumption isn’t necessarily incorrect either. The stoat is a mustelid, of the same family as the weasel, otter, badger and ferret. It’s easy to recognize them because of their low-slung bodies, which make them great hunters of small rodents and rabbits. Color-wise, they are usually orange-ish brown with a white belly. However, stoats that live in colder climates turn white during the winter months. These animals are pretty solitary and can be found throughout Eurasia and Canada’s northernmost regions. 

The stoat is considered one of the most invasive species in North America. Let’s explore what stoats eat!

What Do Stoats Enjoy Eating?

Stoat in the grass

Stoats feed primarily on small mammals as they are true carnivores.

©Keven Law / Creative Commons – Original

So what do stoats eat? Considering that the stoat is such a small animal, one would think that the stoat’s main diet would consist of plants and insects. This depiction, however, is actually far from being an accurate representation of this intriguing hunter. The stoat, as described above, was born with a perfect body for hunting, thanks to the fact that it is both long and slender. It is primarily carnivorous and feeds mainly on rabbits, which are often several times their own weight. To go along with rabbits, stoats also enjoy eating rodents such as voles and mice.

Stoats eat a wide variety of food, however, their diet does not end there. They will also eat insects, reptiles, amphibians, and even fish as well as other animals. These sources of food are usually consumed as a supplement to the diet of these animals and are not their primary source of food. The majority of their diet consists of rabbits. However, it is not uncommon for them to eat dead animal carcasses when food is scarce. 

According to a published study in the New Zealand Journal of Zoology, stoat abundance and diet were compared before and after an aerial 1080 poisoning for possums in a New Zealand forest. There was a dramatic reduction in the number of ship rats as a result of poisoning. Even though rats were the main prey item for stoats before the poisoning, the operation had no effect on their abundance, and they now ate birds instead of rats.

It seems that the stoat’s flexible diet is responsible for their abundance and ability to survive in many habitats. 

Now, let’s take a closer look at how stoats obtain their food.

What Is The Stoats’ Method Of Finding Food?

White stoat in the snow

Stoats are small, but fierce predators that can easily kill animals far larger than themselves.

©Jean Landry/Shutterstock.com

Stoats are carnivores, as you now know. Their food source must therefore come from hunting. You may be surprised to find out that the stoat is actually an excellent hunter. Despite its small size, the stoat has the ability to kill animals much bigger than itself. Stoats are able to locate their prey from a very far distance due to their ability to identify the scent. 

When it’s on a trail, the stoat chases relentlessly. It is possible for them to travel up to 8 kilometers on a single hunt, or nearly 5 miles. While hunting, stoats can reach speeds of 20 miles per hour. In order to kill their prey, stoats bite the back of the neck. Whenever it has too much meat to eat, it will sometimes ‘surplus kill’ and store the excess food for future eating. 

A stoat’s hunting strategy often involves strange behaviors. Typically, it approaches a group of birds or rabbits and jumps around, pretending to ignore them, and edges nearer to get a better look. As soon as they hear the stoat, the stoat will then pounce on the closest animal in the group. 

What Does A Baby Stoat Eat?

stoat vs weasel

Baby stoats are called kits and they depend primarily on their mother for food.

©Colin Seddon/Shutterstock.com

A stoat’s baby is called a kit. During the first few weeks after birth, they are completely dependent on their mothers. It is not uncommon for six to twelve little ones (kittens) to be born in a hidden nest, sometimes in a rabbit burrow. A kitten’s coat is made up of fine white hair, and it is born blind. A thicker patch of fur goes around their necks so their mother can carry them safely in her mouth.

A female will provide care for her young until around 12 weeks of age when they will be able to care for themselves. Every day, the mother stoat must feed her baby kits over half their body weight. As with adult stoats, kits also consume a diet similar to their mothers. The mother goes out hunting for rabbits, small rodents, insects, or whatever else she can find on her hunt. After they become adults, the kits will stay together with their families for a while and continue hunting together. Due to their solitary nature, they typically go their individual ways after some time.

What Do Stoats Living In Captivity Eat?

The idea of keeping a stoat as a pet appeals to many people. It is, however, not recommended that you keep them as they are not domesticated animals. Although stoats resemble ferrets, they are very different animals. Ferrets have been domesticated for a long time, while stoats have not been domesticated at all. When hungry, they can become quite aggressive. It is also possible for stoats to attack your other pets since they prefer to be alone. There have been instances when they have killed animals twice their size. 

However, their dietary preferences do not change when they are kept in captivity. Their diet consists primarily of meat and they require a lot of food in order to remain healthy and happy. Each day, they need to consume up to 60% of their body weight in food. Wild stoats consume a variety of food. The majority of their diet consists of meat. Captive animals may have difficulty maintaining this diet. In order to feed their stoats, their owners must feed them a variety of meats because they cannot hunt normally. Even though stoats do not naturally eat these foods, they will sometimes need to eat beef and pork to survive.

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About the Author

Volia Schubiger is a freelance copywriter and content editor with a passion and expertise in content creation, branding, and marketing. She has a background in Broadcast Journalism & Political Science from CUNY Brooklyn College. When she's not writing she loves traveling, perusing used book stores, and hanging out with her other half.

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