Did you know there are SIX species of weasels in Maine?

The Maine forest is brimming with wildlife. Let’s meet the six weasels in Maine.

Fishers a rare sight in Maine with solid dark fur hiding in trees

Maine fisher are solid dark brown and spend a lot of time in trees. Fisher weasels live in heavily wooded spruce-fur regions of Maine.

My most recent Fisher sighting was in the North Maine Woods, a region in the far northern part of Maine near the Canadian border, where the moose population outnumbers humans. I had brought my son and his fiance to view the solar eclipse from Scopan Lake in the densely-forested region. Watching a Fisher bumble along the side of the road and cross just in front of us is a testament to how remote the region is. The Fisher had no fear of us, we simply saw a glimpse of it’s day as it sniffed out it’s lunch. It had been the first magical moment of our wild expedition.

Strangely, back home in the heart of Maine in our Bradford cabin, my husband had seen Fisher tracks on the ice of the stream 100-feet from the cabin. This makes sense given they like thick forests with fallen trees, brush piles, tree cavities, and ground burrows for their home—which both locations provide.

Bradford, a property we have lived on for less than six months, is the location of the only videos I’ve captured of a fisher in Maine in my many years of game camera surveying. (It’s a bit of an obsession.) Although this old trail camera was struggling with the time, date and temp—amazingly it still captured this great video of a fisher. This was one of the most exciting game camera videos I’ve captured to date. I told everyone I encountered for the next week, weather they enjoy wildlife or not, or even wanted to talk to me.

Fisher are most active before dawn and after dusk in the summer, and may be more active during the day during the winter months to find the additional winter food needed to sustain life in such cold regions of Maine. Fisher weasels do not hibernate. The fisher I have personally seen and captured on game cams completely contradicts this, having been seen at 3:30PM and 2:00PM, respectively.

Four months later I captured this beauty about half a mile from our cabin. A few hours before this fisher video was captured, a rabbit had been nibbling and hopping about the same area.

Fisher are carnivores, and enjoy chasing down snowshoe hare, carefully dining on porcupine, small rodents, upland birds, deer fawn, beaver and muskrat. Fisher also eat seasonal foods, like berries and nuts. Fisher are so bold it has been found they even hunt Lynx.

Contrary to their name, fisher do not fish. Their name originates from their resemblance to European “polecats” or “fitch” which we know simply as ferrets. Early settlers used this similar looking animal to describe fisher to others for practical reasons. They are sometimes called fisher cats, but are not related to cats. Do. Not. Pet. One.

Male fisher are 20% longer than females and weigh 10 pounds, exceptionally large individuals may exceed 20 pounds. Female fisher fur darker and silkier than males. Females eggs aren’t released until they breed in March or April. The fertilized egg stops developing for 10-11 months, resuming in February with a 50-day gestation. One to five kits are born in late March or April, often in the cavity of a large tree and stay with their mother until five-months-old.

Pine Martens are very illusive with a distinctively light-colored neck

Marten live in conifer forests with dense shrubs in western and northern Maine. An agile climber with retractable claws, they den in tree cavities and are are arboreal hunters. Their favorite snacks include; voles, squirrels, birds, and insects, but they also take advantage of nuts and berries. They are about the size of a domestic cat, with long reddish-brown fur, dark brown legs, bushy tail, and pale yellow neck, and lighter face.

One of my favorite wildlife stories about Pine Marten is how a trapper used CPR through the nose to revive an accidentally caught Marten in his bobcat trap out-of-season in January 2024 in Minnesota. By the time DNR showed up, the Marten was not only alive, but “very angry” inside an enclosed ATV with the trapper awaiting safe release.

What is the difference between fisher and marten?

Unlike the fisher, pine marten have an extended breeding season begins in June and lasts through August, followed by an eight-month delayed egg implantation. Maine is at the current southern-most range in eastern North America.

Ermine, or short-tailed weasel, are the smallest of the weasel family and change color with shorter days

The Ermine, also called a short-tailed weasel Mustela erminea is likely the most common weasels in Maine you come across. They are less fearful of humans and can often be found in suburban areas, or even apartment ceilings as noted in this article.

Learn About Maine Weasels: Types of weasels in Maine weasel species. The Ermine, also called a short-tailed weasel
Ermine are even known to bring down snowshoe hare, photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

These sneaky devils even hunt under the snow in tunnels made by scurrying rodents, their main source of food. With such high metabolisms they eat about 2/3 of their bodyweight everyday to survive. Every. Day.

They are smart creatures, who use the fur of their prey to line their underground burrow. In winter, as the length of daylight hours diminishes, these cute little weasels in Maine turn white from their brown summer coat–all except for their distinctive black-tipped tail.

Ermine weigh up to 6.5 oz with bodies as long as 13.5 inches.

Long-tailed weasels have more black on the tail and change color based on regional changes

The long-tailed weasel Mustela frenata looks so much like the ermine they are often confused. Unlike the ermine, the molts of the Long-tailed depend on the region, rather than a response to daylight of the ermine. The most obvious difference is the longer tail which has less black on the tip than it’s cousin the ermine.

Long-tailed weasels weigh up to 9.5 oz with bodies as much as 22 inches long—substantially longer than the Ermine.

Mink were over-hunted for their prize pelts

Mink (Neovison vison) swim along the shoreline, taking pause on partly submerged logs and rocks. They eat fish, frogs, ducks, mice, muskrats, mussels, and insects. These weasels in Maine grow a couple feet long, with sleek, dark brown fur, and a characteristic white spot under their chin.

They were over-hunted for their prized pelts in the rage of fur fashion in the 1920’s when their fur was worn as a whole pelt laid as a scarf or ‘stole’ over the shoulders. While trapping has plummeted in popularity, it is still practiced in Maine with sustainable guidelines.

River otters are the largest weasels in Maine

River otters are beloved by many and often not recognized as members of the weasel family given their aquatic lifestyle. I’ve certainly argued the point a few times. These large weasels grow to four feet long and 30 pounds. They have long rounded bodies, a small head with little rounded ears, short legs with skillful webbed toes, and long, bushy and pointed tails. Female otters are smaller than males.

I have to add that the male river otter are referred to as ‘meowters’. Say it out loud, cuteness overload. Almost as cute as porcupettes.

They are sometimes confused with mink given their shared love for the water, though mink prefer more secluded areas and do not hang out in the water, rather on a bank nearby.

Well, folks, that wraps up our lesson on weasels in Maine!

*There are also sea otter, but those aren’t found in Maine.