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The modern species probably arose during the Late Pleistocene. The least weasel thrived during the Ice Age , as its small size and long body allowed it to easily operate beneath snow, as well as hunt in burrows.
It probably crossed to North America through the Bering land bridge , years ago. The least weasel has a high geographic variation, a fact which has historically led to numerous disagreements among biologists studying its systematics.
Least weasel subspecies are divided into 3 categories: The least weasel has a thin, greatly elongated and extremely flexible body with a small, yet elongated, blunt-muzzled head which is no thicker than the neck.
The eyes are small in relation to their head size and are bulging and dark colored. The legs and tail are relatively short, the latter constituting less than half the body length.
The feet have sharp, dark-coloured claws, and the soles are heavily haired. This is expressed in the relatively large size of the cranium and shortened facial region.
Fat is deposited along the spine, kidneys, gut mesentries and around the limbs. The smell and chemical composition of these chemicals are distinct from those of the stoat.
Dimensions vary geographically, to an extent rarely found among other mammals. Least weasels of the vulgaris group, for example, may outweigh the smaller races by almost four times.
In some large subspecies, the male may be 1. The winter fur is dense, but short and closely fitting. In northern subspecies, the fur is soft and silky, but coarse in southern forms.
The summer fur is very short, sparser and rougher. The upper parts in the summer fur are dark, but vary geographically from dark-tawny or dark-chocolate to light pale tawny or sandy.
The lower parts, including the lower jaw and inner sides of the legs, are white. There is often a brown spot at the corner of the mouth.
The dividing line between the dark upper and light lower parts is usually straight but sometimes forms an irregular line. The tail is brown, and sometimes the tip is a little darker but it is never black.
In the northern part of its range and at high altitudes, the least weasel changes colour in the winter, the coat becoming pure white and exhibiting a few black hairs in rare circumstances.
The least weasel mates in April—July and there is a to day gestation period. In the Northern Hemisphere , the average litter size consists of 6 kits and these reach sexual maturity in 3 to 4 months.
Males may mate during their first year of life, though this is usually unsuccessful. They are fecund in February—October, though the early stages of spermatogenesis do occur throughout the winter months.
Anestrus in females lasts from September until February. The female raises its kits without help from the male.
Newborn kits are born pink, naked, blind and deaf, but gain a white coat of downy fur at the age of 4 days. At 10 days, the margin between the dark upper parts and light under parts becomes visible.
The milk teeth erupt at 2 to 3 weeks of age, at which point the young start to eat solid food, though lactation can last 12 weeks.
The eyes and ears open at 3 to 4 weeks of age, and by 8 weeks, killing behaviour is developed. The family breaks up after 9 to 12 weeks.
The least weasel has a typical mustelid territorial pattern, consisting of exclusive male ranges encompassing multiple female ranges.
The population density of each territory depends greatly on food supply and reproductive success, thus the social structure and population density of any given territory is unstable and flexible.
Its scent marking behaviour is similar to that of the stoat; it uses faeces , urine and anal and dermal gland secretions, the latter two of which are deposited by anal dragging and body rubbing.
The least weasel does not dig its own den, but nests in the abandoned burrow of another species such as a mole or rat.
The least weasel has four basic vocalisations; a guttural hiss emitted when alarmed, which is interspersed with short screaming barks and shrieks when provoked.
When defensive, it emits a shrill wail or squeal. During encounters between males and females or between a mother and kits, the least weasel emits a high-pitched trilling.
Dominant weasels exhibit lunges and shrieks during aggressive encounters, while subdominant weasels will emit submissive squeals. The least weasel feeds predominantly on mouse -like rodents , including mice, hamsters , gerbils and others.
It usually does not attack adult hamsters and rats. Frogs , fish , small birds and bird eggs are rarely eaten. It can deal with adult pikas and gerbils, but usually cannot overcome brown rats and sousliks.
Exceptional cases are known of least weasels killing prey far larger than themselves, such as capercaillie , hazel hen and hares.
In years of scarcity, birds form a greater proportion of the diet and female least weasels may fail to breed.
Despite its small size, the least weasel is a fierce hunter, capable of killing a rabbit five to ten times its own weight.
Male least weasels take a higher proportion of rabbits than females, as well as an overall greater variety of prey.
This is linked to the fact that being larger, and having vaster territorial ranges than females, males have more opportunities to hunt a greater diversity of prey.
The least weasel forages undercover, to avoid being seen by foxes and birds of prey. It is adapted for pursuing its prey down tunnels, though it may also bolt prey from a burrow and kill it in the open.
Large prey typically dies of blood loss or circulatory shock. The least weasel is small enough to be preyed upon by a range of other predators. Other birds of prey threatening to the least weasel include broad-winged and rough-legged buzzards.
Some snake species may prey on the least weasel, including the black rat snake and copperhead. In areas where the least weasel is sympatric with the stoat , the two species compete with each other for rodent prey.
The weasel manages to avoid too much competition by living in more upland areas, feeding on smaller prey and being capable of entering smaller holes.
It actively avoids encounters with stoats, though female weasels are less likely to stop foraging in the presence of stoats, perhaps because their smaller size allows them to quickly escape into holes.
Ectoparasites known to infest weasels include the louse Trichodectes mustelae and the mites Demodex and Psoregates mustela. The species may catch fleas from the nests and burrows of its prey.
Flea species known to infest weasels include Ctenophthalmus bisoctodentatus and Palaeopsylla m. Helminths known to infest weasels include the trematode Alaria , the nematodes Capillaria , Filaroides and Trichinella and the cestode Taenia.
There is no evidence that this has serious detrimental effects on even heavily infested animals. The least weasel has a circumboreal , Holarctic distribution, encompassing much of Europe and North Africa , Asia and parts of northern North America , where it occurs mainly in places where the stoat is not found, and has recently been extirpated from New York.
It is found throughout Europe and on many islands, including the Azores, Britain but not Ireland , and all major Mediterranean islands. The least weasel occupies a similar type of habitat as the stoat but it less often frequents wet places.
The least weasel has a very wide circumboreal range and a large total population and is therefore listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as being of " least concern ".
Its chosen habitat is in areas of coarse vegetation and in some regions its numbers may be decreasing because of changes in agricultural practices, but altogether its population trend is thought to be steady.
It is relatively common in Eurasia but less abundant in North America and is thought to be rare in the southeastern United States.
It is subject to considerable variations in numbers in areas where its main rodent prey is liable to large population fluctuations.
In years of rodent population booms, the least weasel numbers may rise by up to ten-fold, only to slump again as prey becomes scarce again in the following years.
The Ancient Macedonians believed that to see a least weasel was a good omen. Similarly, a popular superstition in southern Greece had it that the least weasel had previously been a bride , who was transformed into a bitter animal which would destroy the wedding dresses of other brides out of jealousy.
To this dreadful monster the effluvium of the weasel is fatal, a thing that has been tried with success, for kings have often desired to see its body when killed; so true is it that it has pleased Nature that there should be nothing without its antidote.
The animal is thrown into the hole of the basilisk, which is easily known from the soil around it being infected.
The weasel destroys the basilisk by its odour, but dies itself in this struggle of nature against its own self. The Ojibwe believed that the least weasel could kill the dreaded wendigo giant by rushing up its anus.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Redirected from Least Weasel. Least weasel Temporal range: International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Retrieved 21 March Retrieved 22 December Introduced Mammals of the World: Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, Volume Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.
Retrieved 8 November John Bostock ; Henry Thomas Riley , eds. Any of various carnivorous mammals of the genus Mustela, having a long slender body, a long tail, short legs, and brownish fur that in many species turns white in winter.
Animals any of various small predatory musteline mammals of the genus Mustela and related genera, esp M. Automotive Engineering chiefly US a motor vehicle for use in snow, esp one with caterpillar tracks.
Old High German wisula ]. Switch to new thesaurus. Mustela erminea , shorttail weasel , ermine - mustelid of northern hemisphere in its white winter coat.
Mustela nivalis , Old World least weasel - of Europe. Related words adjective musteline male whittret. One who behaves in a stealthy, furtive way: To use evasive or deliberately vague language: N weasel or weasels pl 1.