If you’ve ever seen a small, cute, short-legged mammal covered in brown fur, you might have just assumed it was a weasel. But did you know there are many different closely-related mammals found in the same family as weasels? Today, we’re going to compare and contrast two of these species–the ermine vs. the sable. Keep reading to learn more about these adorable creatures!
What You'll Learn Today
What is an Ermine?
The ermine is a cute little creature also referred to as a stoat, short-tailed weasel, or Bonaparte weasel. It is widely distributed throughout northern parts of Eurasia and North America.
Ermines do not grow very large; they are only 5 to 12 inches long and weigh less than a pound. Those living further north are smaller than the ones found further south, and females are generally smaller than males.
Ermines belong to the Mustelid family, the same as weasels, minks, sables, and a variety of other small mammals. Ermines prefer to live in wooded areas and forests.
Ermines are easily identified and distinguished from other Mustelids by their black tails. The rest of their bodies are brown in summer and turn white or mostly white in the winter.
Ermines look very similar to ferrets–they have short legs, long tails, and adorable mouse-like faces with small, rounded ears. The coat of the ermine was once commonly used in European royal robes.
There are more than 35 subspecies of ermine found in the wild. Ermines give birth to anywhere from 3 to 13 babies following a long gestation period of up to 10 months.
Ermines may be small and cute, but they are powerful, agile carnivores. They eat other small mammals, birds, bird eggs, frogs, insects, and sometimes fish.
Ermines will sometimes take on prey much larger than themselves, as seen in the following video.
What is a Sable?
The sable is another small weasel-like creature belonging to the Mustelid family. Sables are very similar to weasels and minks, and they are found throughout northern regions of Eurasia and North America.
Sables are also sometimes called martens; they are found primarily in Siberia, but other subspecies can be found in China, North America, and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere.
Sables grow larger than ermines, as they are typically 13 to 20 inches long and weigh 2 to 4 pounds.
Sables have shiny, silky fur in shades of beige, brown, black, and gold; their fur does not change to white in the winter. The fur is somewhat long and shaggy.
Sables have longer legs than ermines, and their general appearances could be described as a cross between a cat and a weasel. They have somewhat larger, more pointed ears than ermines.
Sable fur is used for coats, especially in Russia and China. Sables are prized for their fur, which is extremely expensive and valuable–so much so that it has been considered one of the most valuable materials since Renaissance times.
Sables give birth 1 to 4 babies at a time, and like ermines, they also have a long gestation period of up to 300 days.
Check out this video of an adorable sable being kept as a pet:
Ermine Vs. Sable: Similarities and Differences
As you can probably tell from the above sections, ermines and sables have many similarities and differences. Let’s explore some of those similarities and differences below.
- Scientific family: Sables and ermines both belong to the Mustelid family, meaning that they are essentially animal cousins. They are both closely related to minks, weasels, and other Mustelids.
- Region: Both ermines and sables live in northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere. They can both be found in parts of North America, Europe, and Asia.
- General appearance: At first glance, ermines and sables look pretty similar; both have dark fur (at least in the summer), relatively short legs, long tails, and adorable faces.
- Genus: Though they belong to the same family, ermines and sables are different species within that family. Ermines belong to the Mustela genus, while sables belong to the Martez genus.
- Tail: Ermines have tails that are shorter and more narrow than sables. Their tails are also distinctively black, whereas sables’ tails are the same color as the rest of their bodies.
- Winter coloring: Ermines turn completely white in colder regions and partially white in warmer regions during the winter; they are brown during the summer. Sables don’t turn a different color in the winter; they remain black, dark brown, bronze, and beige year-round.
- Size: Sables are significantly larger than ermines. While ermines only grow up to 12 inches and weigh less than a pound, sables can grow up to 20 inches long and weigh up to 4 pounds.
- Fur: Sables have longer, thicker fur than ermines do. While both animals’ pelts are prized in some parts of the world, sable fur is considered especially valuable.
- Diet: Both animals eat small mammals, but sables are more omnivorous than ermines are. Sables will eat nuts, berries, and other plant materials especially during the winter, while ermines will transition to eating other meat-based foods such as birds and frogs if mammals are scarce.
Sables and ermines both belong to the same family as weasels and minks. They are fairly similar in appearance, but sables are larger than ermines and tend to have a more cat-like appearance. Ermines are small and look more like ferrets.