ERMINE – January 2023

By Ann Roberti

On a crisp, cold day just before Thanksgiving, many members of the original Andes Hikers gathered (along with Jack’s son Kris) to have a memorial hike and tailgate to honor Jack McShane who brought us all together so many years ago.  As we were finishing the hike and nearing the trailhead, we were stopped in our tracks by the sight of a beautiful white ermine running back and forth through brush surrounding an old dead spruce tree.  We were amazed that the ermine hadn’t just fled at the approach of all these people and two very interested dogs. We watched in amazement as it kept darting here and there until finally we saw it grab a mouse that it had obviously already hunted and killed and probably drop-ped when it got startled by all those humans.  That determined little creature was not going to give up its hard-won meal even with all that commotion around us.

What made the incident even more entertaining to me was that I know that Jack had a lively disagreement with his friend Jeff about ermine.  Jeff Ditchek once told Jack he had seen one at his pond and Jack told him he was mistaken, that we don’t have ermine around here.  Jeff and Jack were equally adamant in their positions until other confirmed ermine sightings in Andes finally convinced Jack. I’d never seen an ermine before and was thrilled to get to see this one.  It was so fitting that this beautiful and fascinating creature should show up on Jack’s memorial hike and it was just the kind of story I would have called Jack to tell him about. And it would probably made and have appearance in one of his columns!

The American Ermine, also known as American Stoat, is one of the many species in the mustelid family. Ermine range throughout Canada, northern North America and northern Eurasia. These chocolate brown weasels change to white in the Winter, with a black tipped tail. They range in size from a little less than a pound to a little more than 4 pounds. Like most weasels, ermine are fierce little predators and are excellent mousers. And, of course, we all know ermine as the fur of royalty. ~