Molt and Winter Whitening
Weasels molt twice a year, by the same process everywhere. This chapter begins by describing the hormonal control of this cycle. In predictably cold climates, the new autumn hair grows out white over the entire body except for the black tail tip of stoats and long-tailed weasels (the “ermine” condition); in spring the new hair is brown. Where winter snow is less predictable, many individuals turn only partially white (the “pied” condition). Whether a given weasel turns white in a given winter or not was once believed to be an individual response to a temperature “switch,” but now it seems more likely that winter-whitening is a genetically controlled local adaptation (pied individuals are probably hybrids). The chapter describes the distribution of winter-white weasels and its connections with climate and reproduction, and the uses of ermine to trim ceremonial robes, symbols of high status in both European and Native American tradition.
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