Ashley Siple, a cross-country skier, was spending the weekend in the Methow Valley when she spotted a tiny white creature bounding across the snow.
It was a short-tailed weasel, which is also called an ermine for its white winter coat. It caught the attention of several skiers on the Flagg Mountain Loop trail because of its striking coloring -- all white, except for the tip of its tail, which was black.
“His little hole was right on the ski trail,” said Siple, who works at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. “He didn’t seem too fearful of us. There were four or five of us watching him do this thing.”
Siple took dozens of photos with her iPhone 5 as the ermine pranced across the snow, then returned to its hole with what appeared to be a large mouse in its mouth. She believed that was it, but then the weasel poked its little face out of the hole. She was within four feet at that point.
Siple said it was “perfect winter ermine conditions” in the Methow Valley this weekend. Inches of fresh snow had dumped on the Methow Valley in recent days, making it easier for the animal to tunnel under the snow and mark its prey.
“They tunnel underground and then pop up,” she said.
The short-tailed weasel, which is native to the region, molts twice a year. In summer it grows a rougher brown coat. In winter, it grows fur that is silky and bright white.
This weasel sniffs out its prey by standing cobra-like on its hind heels. It kills its food by biting the back of its neck and head. It favors voles, mice and sometimes rabbits.
The weasel typically hunts at night but sometimes must hunt during the day. It's a slender animal, which means it must hunt every day, even in winter, to get enough calories. Otherwise, it could starve.