Ermine (Mustela erminea)
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The Ermine's coat is a rich medium brown with an off-white belly. In winter, the coat is thicker and in regions that experience an inch or more of snow for at least forty days of the year (such as in Armenia), the color changes to clean white. This white fur is known as "ermine", a term originating either from the Latin phrase "Armenius mūs" ("Armenian rat") or from a word common to the Germanic and Baltic languages, hence the scientific name. At this stage, where the animal is known as a "stoat", it may be referred to as ermine, or as being "in ermine". The winter Ermine has been used in art as a symbol of purity or virginity. The white fur was highly prized, and used in the robes of the Lord Chief Justice of England. Both the animal and the heraldic tincture are symbols of Brittany. The furs would be sewn together making a pattern of black dots. A version of this pattern is used in heraldry as ermine tincture.
In all seasons the Ermine has a black tip to its tail. The black tip probably serves as a decoy to predators, which would include almost any carnivore large enough to eat a Ermine (e.g. wolves, foxes, wolverines, and some birds of prey). This kind of coat is very similar to the coat of the long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata), a related animal of about the same size which also moults into white in the northern part of its range, and it is easy to confuse these kinds of weasels. The North American name for the Ermine, the "Short-tailed weasel" arose because its tail length distinguishes it from the long-tailed weasel. In general it is found farther north. Both species can be distinguished from the weasel because the weasel lacks a black tip on its tail.
They have been introduced to New Zealand and Australia to control a rabbit overpopulation but found an alternative source of food easier to catch thus leaving the rabbit problem unsolved. They were also brought to Terschelling Island to control water voles (Arvicola terrestris). Ermines can swim up to 1.5 kilometers across seawater and have already reached several New Zealand offshore islands unaided. Maud Island which is 900 meters offshore has been colonised multiple times in the past 20 years.
There are several recorded instances of Ermines 'transfixing' rabbits by exhibiting a tumbling routine akin to a dance. Rabbits appear hypnotised by this activity and fail to notice the Ermine approach within striking distance. Once close enough, the rabbit falls easy prey to the Ermine.
Like other mustelids it typically dispatches its prey by biting into the base of the skull to get at the centers of the brain responsible for such important biological functions as breathing. Sometimes it will also make preliminary bites to other areas of the body. In most areas in which Ermines and least weasels co-exist, the weasel generally takes smaller prey and the Ermine slightly larger prey. The larger male Ermines generally take larger prey than females. Commonly, the Ermine falls prey to animals such as the wolf, fox, cat or badger.
The Ermine is territorial and intolerant of others in its range, especially others of the same sex. Within its range, it typically uses several dens, often taken from prey species. It usually travels alone, except when it is mating or is a mother with older offspring. It breeds once a year, producing several young kits (or kittens) per litter, and its mating system is promiscuous. Copulation occurs during the mating season with multiple partners and is often forced by the male, who does not help raise the offspring. Sometimes it occurs when the female is so young she has not even left the den. In spite of being such a small animal, the Ermine's gestation is among the longest reported for mammals (11 months) because of the adaptation of delayed implantation, or embryonic diapause, in which a fertilized egg is not implanted in the uterus until months later. The animal's "real" gestation is much shorter. This is presumably an adaptation to the highly seasonal environment in which the Ermine lives.
The skins of Ermines were prized by the fur trade, especially in winter coat, and used to trim coats and stoles. The fur from the winter coat is referred to as "ermine". In Europe these furs were a symbol of royalty; the ceremonial robes of members of the UK House of Lords are trimmed with ermine, though artificial fur is now used. The ermine was also considered a symbol of purity in Europe. In the Renaissance era, legend had it that an ermine would die before allowing its pure white coat to be besmirched. When it was being chased by hunters, it would supposedly turn around and give itself up to the hunters rather than risk soiling itself. Henry Peacham's Emblem 75, which depicts an ermine being pursued by a hunter and two hounds, is entitled "Cui candor morte redemptus" or "Purity bought with his own death." Peacham goes on to preach that men and women should follow the example of the ermine and keep their minds and consciences as pure as the legendary ermine keeps its fur. In some Nordic countries the Ermine is invoked as a symbol of curiosity and timely action. In some areas of Japan, because of its adorable appearance and somewhat elusive nature it is still considered a symbol of good luck.
Demonology at a crossroads: the visions of Ermine de Reims and the image of the devil on the eve of the great European witch-hunt.(Essay)
Sep 01, 2011; From November 1, 1395, until August 25, 1396, ermine de Reims, a peasant widow from Northern France, was systematically...
PORTRAIT OF CECILIA GALLERANI (THE LADY WITH AN ERMINE) 1489-90 (54.8Cm X 40.3cm) Leonardo Da Vinci National Museum, Cracow
Nov 18, 2011; great works This young Renaissance lady - more tricked-out girl than lady - is cradling something savage, and this fact rather...