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Tuesday 11 December 2018

Is there such a thing as a stoat funeral procession?

Stoats are known to be highly territorial, so it would be unusual for them to gather in a group and tolerate each other’s presence
Stoats are known to be highly territorial, so it would be unusual for them to gather in a group and tolerate each other’s presence

Jim Hurley - Nature Trail

There is a persistent and long-standing belief in rural areas that Stoats conduct funerals for their deceased colleagues. Some people claim to have seen such a funeral with Stoats carrying the dead remains of an individual followed by other members of their kind in procession. While funeral processions have been seen nobody has claimed to have witnessed an actual burial.

There is no reason to disbelieve people who claim to have seen unusual Stoat behaviour. They obviously saw something but exactly what it was and how it can be interpreted is another matter entirely.

Before coming to that, it is probably worth repeated that there are no Weasels in Ireland. Our weasel-like animal is the Irish Stoat, a distinct native sub-species. Interestingly, legends of Weasel funerals exist throughout Britain.

I saw a Stoat 'funeral' only once in my lifetime of nature watching. By chance, I happened to disturb an adult Stoat carrying remains. However, there was no other Stoat in the funeral procession. The movements of the bearer of the remains were so quick and jerky it was difficult to make out what she was carrying.

As luck would have it, she dropped the remains and bolted for cover. On close examination, the remains were those of a new-born Rabbit, small, pink, naked and its eyes tightly closed. So, rather than witnessing one of the legendary Stoat funerals, what I happened upon was Stoat dinner-time with the predator heading home with a Rabbit take-away.

Stoats are known to be highly territorial, so it would be unusual for them to gather in a group and tolerate each other's presence. The only time a group is likely to be seen is a mother with her litter of ten possibly twelve dependent young.

The most likely explanation for group behaviour is for an entire litter of hungry young to leave their nest and greet and follow their mother as she returns home dragging a rat, bird or young rabbit for the family to feast on. It is, of course, possible that an injured, dead or dying individual may be dragged away by other family members for some reason.

So, the idea of Stoats processing in a funeral cortege carrying a fallen colleague has no basis in reality unless and until someone produces clear video evidence of a funeral with Stoats carrying the dead remains of an individual followed by other members of their kind in solemn procession.

Wexford People

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