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                     Northwest Wildlife Online                       


by John M. Regan

Order Carnivora, Family Mustelidae:

Weasels, Minks, Otters, Badgers, Wolverines, Skunks


Bats  Bears  Canines  Felines  Mustelidae (Weasels)  Rodents  Pinnipeds  Cetacea  Insectivores (Moles and Shrews)  Hoofed Animals


Opossums  Raccoon Family  Rabbit Family  Skunks


  Birds  Mammals  Reptiles  Amphibians  Fish  Invertebrates  Home


Mission  Editor Bio  Contact   Wildlife Park Links  Further Study  Wild Employment  Northwest Trek



Wolverine (Gulo gulo) If anybody in the country can lay claim to being a victim of bad press it is the wolverine photographed on the left.  A ferocious fighter when the need arises, wolverines are not the wanton killers they so often portrayed.  The nickname "Skunk Bear," however is well deserved - they will let you know all about scent glands.  For more on wolverines follow this link:  Wolverine Page  Sea Otters, Enhydra lutris, bob around in a typical posture.  These are large musteilids, sometimes topping the scales at 80 pounds.



Thirteen Species of Family Mustelidae represent wildlife in the Northwest


American Marten (Pine, Sable) - Martes americana

Fisher - Martes pennanti

Long tailed weasel - Mustela frenata

Short tailed weasel - Mustela erminea

Mink - Mustela vison

Wolverine - Gulo gulo

River Otter - Lontra canadensis

Sea Otter - Enhydra lutris

American Badger - Taxidea taxus


Sub Family Mephitinae (Skunks)


Striped skunk - Mephitis mephitis

Western Spotted Skunk - Spilogale gracilis





On the left is an American Badger, Taxidea taxus.  Although known for a feisty reputation, the ones I have encountered simply ran away.  Poking up is a truly feisty mustelid - the beautiful Mink, Mustela vison.  Solitary and short tempered, they also have surprisingly strong scent glands.  (This wonderful photo is shown here courtesy of Thomas Dahlen of Boise, Idaho.)  On the right is our most likeable member of the family - the River Otter.


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The Family Mustelidae - some of our favorite and some of our least welcome animals.  And like any big family some members are loveable and some aren't.  There are the Mustelidae we love - the Sea Otters and River Otters, so cute you just want to grab one and hug it.  The badgers and wolverines are the champion fighters of the family, but the weasels take a back seat to nobody when it comes to feistiness.  And for sheer beauty it's hard to beat a mink.


Some close up shots of a Fisher.  Common, but rarely seen, this member of the mustelid family lives up to the reputation for ferocity.  According to Dave Ellis, Director of Northwest Trek, these are one of the few animals willing to take on porcupines.  They ascend trees and actually attack the rodents head on.  A bite to the face kills the porcupine; the animal is then thrown to the ground and the fisher assaults the unprotected underbelly.


      Just about all of the Mustelidae share one important characteristic - they stink.  They do to our sensitive human olfactory anyway.  Some less than others, of course, and some more offensive to humans than others, but all possess a well developed pair of anal scent glands.  Skunks are masters of the scent gland, but wolverines  and minks are no slouches in this department.  In general, however, the Mustelidae share one other common characteristic:  they are aggressive, seemingly fearless animals.  These guys regularly back down animals many times their own size.


     Twenty-five genera and 70 species of this very active and interesting family of mammals populate the globe.  Worldwide the smallest are the weasels.  The appropriately named Least Weasel comes in at less than a pound.  Sea otters top the scale in at nearly 80 pounds.  All share the same low slung, powerful body, and a sturdy skull filled with teeth designed for killing and eating.  Mustelidae are primarily carnivores.


  BadgerClaw by John M. Regan


These claws are meant for digging!


     Our Northwest River Otters are quite common, some even at home in salt water where they happily hunt fish and crabs and are often mistaken for Sea Otters.  River otters, however, are much smaller and always return to land.  Sea otters, considerably rare in the Northwest, range up and down the coast from California to the Aleutian Islands.  They are strict lovers of the ocean and live there from birth to death.


     The most notorious member of the family is the Wolverine Nicknamed "skunk-bear" and "Indian Devil" the wolverine is most well known yet least understood member of the Mustelidae family.  So exaggerated is this animal's reputation that the very name wolverine is a synonym for ferocity and gargantuan appetite.  Follow this link to the Wolverine Homepage for more.


    Now Gulo gulo is certainly no pussycat, and his scent gland talents can rival that of the skunk, but this giant member of the weasel family has other, surprising qualities. Intelligent, extraordinarily energetic, and clever, wolverines are actually quite playful, although this can be disastrous to a hunters cabin.  They are fast learners, quickly learn to avoid traps, and are one of the strongest pound for pound animals alive.  One male may share a territory of many hundreds of acres with two to three females. 


    Close behind the wolverine in terms of ferocity and reputation is the Badger.  These guys are certainly not an animal to trifle with, but badgers I have run into preferred to avoid trouble.  Badgers are, among all the Mustelidae, the champion diggers.  With its powerful front claws, low center of gravity, and bulldog bulk badgers can excavate like a little earth mover.  Watching one tear into the ground or improve its den you get the impression that they rejoice in the dig.  Yet they are reportedly good swimmers and tree climbers.


    Minks, martens, and fishers.  What's the difference?  Actually, not much, they are very similar animals.  If you are lucky enough to glimpse one in the wild it would be hard to distinguish between a fisher and a mink.  All three are weasels, all are fast, furious, and skilled predators and all possess a lustrous, much prized fur.  Largest of the three, the fisher can reach almost four feet in length and weigh up to 12 pounds.  Fishers are famous for their ability to attack and eat porcupines, are especially adept tree climbers, and prefer dense coniferous forests.


    The smallest and most weasel like is the American MartenA little over two feet in length and about two pounds in weight, martens are famous for their agility and speed.  Equally at home above ground or on it, they are constantly on the move.  Look for them in boreal forests at higher elevations, but lowlands are inhabited as well. 


    Minks, despite the high value of their pelts, are not rare animals and are common across the US and Canada.  What most people do not realize, but those familiar with them do, is that they are as smelly as skunks.  In fact, the very name mink is Swedish for "a stinky animal."  Minks love water and are often found near it.  Not surprisingly one of their favorite foods is muskrat.  A three pound weasel, the mink is not a large animal, but he is a fierce hunter, and often kills more than it can eat.



Bats  Bears  Canines  Felines  Mustelidae (Weasels)  Rodents  Pinnipeds  Cetacea  Insectivores (Moles and Shrews)  Hoofed Animals


Opossums  Raccoon Family  Rabbit Family  Skunks


Birds  Mammals  Reptiles  Amphibians  Fish  Invertebrates  Home


Mission  Editor Bio  Contact   Wildlife Park Links  Further Study  Wild Employment  Northwest Trek

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