In part one of this blog I introduced the pygmy weasel, which is either the female or juvenile stage of the common weasel (Mustela nivalis) or a different species altogether. In part two I introduce a few letters and articles ranging from 1935 to 2009 in order to provide more information.
On September 18th 1996 I received a letter on behalf of Colin Howes Environmental Records Officer of Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council on the pygmy weasel. The letter read:
'Prof. Seaward of Bradford University has forwarded your enquiry to look into. During researches into the history of mammals in Yorkshire I have certainly come across allusions and possibly references to `Pygmy`and `Mouse` weasels but have simply regarded these as `rustic` names to distinguish the common weasel (Mustela nivalis) from the stoat (Mustela erminea.) ...I seem to remember some of the gamekeeper correspondents of John Flintoff of Goathland, during the epic study of pelage and size in stoats and weasels earlier this century, referring to Pygmy weasels.
Even today, members of `shoots`in the Vale of Pickering region of North Yorkshire refer to very small weasels as `mouse` weasels."(1)
On September 26th 1996 I received a second letter from Howes about pygmy weasels:
Refering to Flintoff -'As an amateur naturalist Flintoff was well ahead of his time, undertaking a series of fascinating questionnaire surveys into the size ranges and ermine trends in stoats and weasels...Although Flintoff didn`t publish a book on the subject, his various papers are quoted in the Handbook of British Mammals and Dr King`s world monograph on stoats and weasels...The Game Conservancy at Fordingbridge, Hants* may be a useful contact for gamekeepers who would be able to provide the evidence you are looking for.' (2)
(*There is a note below this in my handwriting saying `They were not useful.`)
The R. J. Flintoff article that Howes sent with his second letter is `The Weights and Measurements of Stoats and Weasels `in The North-Western Naturalist for March 1935 vol 10 no.1
In Table 2 Flintoff presents the weight in ounces of three female weasels and fourteen male: 'The outstanding fact is that a weasel may weigh no more than 1 and a half ounces...Personally I hardly think the quality of size alone is sufficient as a basis for making a new species...Mr Adam Gordon, Duncombe Park, Helmsley, N. Yorkshire, an able and well known naturalist, writes: I must confess the weights of the weasels suprised me,because they were much less than I expected...Weasels are sometimes so small as to suggest there may be two kinds-the common weasel and the mouse weasel.'(3)
Coming right up to date with a web article dated September 18th 2009 from the Darlington and Stockton Times http://www.darlingtonandstocktontimes.co.uk `The mystery of the mouse-weasel and when a stoat becomes ermine` by Nicholas Rhea
'Rumours in country areas suggest there are two types of weasel. None of my sources confirm that two species exist in this country and yet the belief was once very strong, despite having no official backing... It is claimed that the further north one travels, the more likely it is that pure white stoats will be seen, although the famous colony in the ruins of Mount Grace Priory, near Osmotherley, have been known to turn pure white...So how has the belief arisen that two types of weasel live in England? In the none-too far distant past,it was claimed that there was a smaller variety known as the mouse-weasel. It was supposedly about 6ins (15cm) long, but in all other respects it matched the colouring and habits of the larger variety.
Some landowners claimed that the mouse weasel could pass through an average-sized wedding ring. Not surprisingly, experts suggested these small weasels were mere juveniles, but rural experts had considered that possibility and rejected it. So far as I am aware, this likelihood has never been satisfactorily answered, but it might be worth adding that a female weasel is smaller than the male, though only slightly. (4)
1. Letter from Colin Howes to Richard Muirhead September 18th 1996.
2. Letter from C. Howes to R. Muirhead September 26th 1996.
3. R. J. Flintoff The Weights and Measurements of Stoats and Weasels The North-Western Naturalist March 1935 vol.10(1) pp31,33.
4. N. Rhea The mystery of the mouse-weasel and when a stoat becomes ermine http://www.darlingtonandstocktontimes.co.uk
My next blog will cover some hitherto unpublished information from a German academic on Namibia`s flying snake and news about my suprise appearance with the Scissor Sisters at a secret venue in Manchester. (Don`t hold your breath, one of those comments is a joke!