Poecilogale albinuchaAfrican striped weasel

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Geographic Range

Poecilogale albinucha is found throughout sub-saharan Africa but is rare throughout its range.

Habitat

The striped weasel may be found in a variety of different habitats. It has been found in forest edge, grassland, and marsh regions (Nowak 1997). Generally, they are found in regions that support their main prey, small mammals (Kingdon).

Physical Description

The animal's body is sleek and long, and has very short legs (Kingdon 1977). The head and body measure 250-360mm, and the tail is 130-230mm. Males may weigh 283-380 grams, and females may weigh 230-290 grams (Nowak 1997). Individuals from western Uganda have been found to be slightly larger than those from areas further east and south. The legs and underside of the animal are covered in black fur. The top of the head is white, continuing in a thick stripe down the back where there are both black and white longitudinal stripes, and the tail is totally white. In captive individuals, the white stripe color may vary from light yellow to deep buff. It looks very similar to, and is often confused with, the zorilla (/Ictonyx striatus/), and it is argued that it may be a mimic (Kingdon 1977). Females have two pairs of mammae (Nowak 1997).

  • Range mass
    230 to 380 g
    8.11 to 13.39 oz

Reproduction

Births of captive animals were found to occur from September to April (Nowak 1977). Their courtship patterns are thought to be similar to the ferret (/Mustela putorius/), and involves much growling. Both sexes have been found to grab the mates neck and drag it around like it were a prey (Kingdon 1977). The females are polyestrous. If their first litter is lost, they will mate a second time in the season. Litters consist of 1-3 young, and the gestation period is 31-33 days. Young are fully weaned at about 11 weeks, and nearly full grown at 20 weeks. A male may mate at 33 months, and a female may have her first litter at 19 months (Nowak 1997).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
    2.2
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    32 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    439 days
    AnAge

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

The striped weasel is nocturnal and fossorial. This is likely to avoid being seen by predators like owls. Most of their activity is centered around their burrow. They can dig a burrow very quickly, or they may take over a rodent's burrow or termite mound and modify it to their needs. The only time the animal is found to leave the burrow is when it is goes hunting. When the animal kills its prey it will always bring the kill back home before eating it. The burrow varies in length, but always has a rounded chamber at the end that the animal uses to store dead prey. The striped weasel will kill as many rats as it can when it has the opportunity, and store them in the chamber. It also stores injured animals. Prey may be hunted by scent or by opening an animal's tunnel and waiting for it to come out. Eyesight does not play a major role in hunting, but it is used in everyday life and spatial orientation (Kingdon 1977). The striped weasel can climb very well, but it usually stays on the ground. They may be solitary, but they will sometimes stay together with 2-4 family members. The animal will release an odor from its anal glands when it is attacked or under stress. The striped weasel is usually silent, but will produce a loud growl/shriek when alarmed. When frightened, it may also bounce up and down on its forefeet with the back feet on the ground, and erect its tail hairs. (Nowak 1977) (Smithers 1966). They are also thought to have different vocalizations for threat, defense, and greeting (Channing and Rowe-Rowe 1977).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The striped weasel is carnivorous. It eats mainly small mammals (rodents, rats, mole rats, etc.) and birds, but also eats snakes and insects (Nowak 1997, Smithers 1966). It is able to enter any burrow that its head can fit into. Once a prey is found, it attacks by biting the back of the neck, and continues to hang on and chew until the prey is dead (Nowak 1997). To do this it relies greatly on the power of its long back. It is said that "The weasel bites its victim, usually a rodent, at the back of the neck and, rolling over on to its back, clamps part of the rat or mouse between its jaws and forepaws, meanwhile racking the victim's body with well co-ordinated kicks that are discharged by means of the powerful spasms of the weasel's long back." (Kingdon 1977). If the prey's legs happen to be free, the striped weasel will hang on until the animal drops from exhaustion (Nowak 1997). They have a large appetite and may eat 3-4 rats in a night. They are selective about what body parts they will eat. For instance, captive individuals usually do not eat the head, tail, legs, and dorsal skin of larger rodents (Kingdon 1977).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The striped weasel is beneficial to humans because of the service they provide by killing rats, mice, springhares, locusts and their larvae, all of which may damage crops.

Additionally, their skins are used by some African tribes in ceremonial costumes or ornaments. They are also used in rituals performed by shamans (Nowak 1997).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The striped weasel may kill chickens that are being raised by humans (Nowak 1997).

Conservation Status

The striped weasel inhabits a wide range throughout Africa, but its numbers are not very great. Nonetheless, it is not considered to be endangered (Shortridge 1934) (Nowak 1997)(WCMC).

Contributors

Todd Brilliant (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

References

1997. "World Conservation Monitoring Centre" (On-line). Accessed 11/19/99 at http://www.wcmc.org.UK/.

Channing, A., D. Rowe-Rowe. 1977. Vocalizations of South African mustelines. Z. Tierpsychol, 44: 283-293.

Kingdon, J. 1977. East African Mammals. New York: Academic Press.

Nowak, R. 1997. "Walker's Mammals of the World Online" (On-line). Accessed 11/19/99 at http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world.

Shortridge, G. 1934. The Mammals of South West Africa. London: William Heinemann Ltd.

Smithers, R. 1966. The Mammals of Rhodesia, Zambia and Malawi. London: Collins.