The way to figure this out is, first, to observe the
track pattern. There are two tiny prints, side-by-side, with great
stride distance between them. Known as the "2-2" pattern, this
indicates the bounding members of the weasel family, which includes
long-tailed weasel, ermine (short-tailed weasel), least weasel,
mink, marten, ferret, otter & fisher. (The weasel family also
includes skunk & wolverine, but they do not commonly travel by
bounding.) The front feet land first, together, and the hind feet
directly register on top of the front prints, making it look like
the animal only has two feet. In snow, this leaves a "dumbell"
shaped pattern that can be easily mistaken for a single deer print.
If snow conditions are poor and you have no other
information to go on, you can rule out deer if the pairs of prints
are in a straight line (i.e. looking like a deer that has zero body
width), also if any of the prints are diagonally offset (not exactly
side-by-side), that would rule out deer. In this case, we have one
set of prints on the log that are clear enough to show that this
animal has 5 toes, and it’s going under logs and through brush
piles, so that makes it weasel.
The very small size of the feet quickly rule out the
larger members of the family – marten, otter & fisher. The location
of CT also rules out least weasel, marten & ferret.
Mink & weasels have a great deal of overlap in the size
of their feet, and it is often impossible to determine one from the
other with certainty. In this case, however, if you study a field
guide, you can conclude that this weasel was smaller than the
smallest typical mink or long-tailed weasel, so that makes it a
small ermine, most likely a female.
This ermine embodied the energetic & fierce personality
that weasels are famous for. It inspired me to follow its tracks
over & under logs & rocks, and made the woods come alive. I hope it
inspired you equally.
Best of luck with your tracking, and stay tune for the