Arctic adventures from Northern Alaska, where we’re exploring the role of wolf spiders in the ecosystem (and discovering lots of other tiny wonders of the tundra along the way!).
Photo courtesy of National Parks Service
It's been a good morning for wildlife. As soon as I stepped out of my tent, I was greeted with a flurry of snow. The Seattle-kid in me was immediately excited (I haven't seen snow since last summer), but that wore off as soon as the cold permeated my down jacket. One local resident, however, was unperturbed by the change in weather. Word around camp was that an ermine had been hanging out in front of the dining hall. An ermine was on our list of animals to see, so we were excited when we looked out the window and saw a little brown and white shape bounding around in the fresh snow.
Ermine are small and fierce carnivores belonging to the weasel family (Mustelidae). Males are larger than females, and on average reach 13 inches in length (tail included). In the winter, they have a white coat with a black tip on their tail. By summertime, their coat is chocolate brown with a white underbelly. The one we saw was part way through its color change. They're very opportunistic and often take over ground squirrel nests. This ermine has probably been making meals of the local voles and shrews.