AFAN WOODLAND ANIMALS
ITACHI – Japanese weasel (Mustela itatsi)
The Japanese weasel, or itachi, is probably the most easily spotted animal in our woods, especially in winter when there is snow on the ground. An adult male is about 35 cms. long in body, with the bushy tail half as long again. Females are slightly smaller. The fur is orange-brown, and gloriously glossy in winter. They have cute button noses circled with white, and a black mask with a white bib. They have long whiskers. Legs are short and they have sharp claws.
In some parts of the world weasels turn white in winter, but ours do not (although our hares do turn white, with black tips to their ears, but that’s another story)
The itachi are fierce hunters, and will kill birds twice their size, and they will also bring down juvenile hares. (We don’t have wild rabbits, only hares) Itachi can run, climb, swim and dive.
The females have a single litter per year, with four to five kits, which are weaned in eight weeks.
The weasel family is represented all over the world. They are hunted by owls and hawks, but mammalian hunters are supposedly put off by the musky scent from their anal glands. It smells rather like skunk, but nowhere near as strong! In Japanese this trait gives rise to a common saying ‘Itachi no saigo pei’ which in translation means ‘The weasel’s final fart’ which is used, as an expression, not as a fart, to describe the last act or words of somebody people don’t like that much.
In Japanese legend, it was supposed to be a bad omen to see an itachi but to us they are most welcome, as they help keep down the mice that chew on young sapling roots during winter, when the ground is covered in snow.
To call somebody ‘itachi’ in Japanese implies that the person is a swaggering bravado, but one who will only show off when there is nobody stronger or of equal status around. Like foxes and raccoon dogs, itachi are also supposed to be shape-changers.
I like weasels, but then, I don’t keep chickens. Real life weasels and Japanese itachi get short thrift as far as I’m concerned but to mix metaphors I would venture to say that Trump is a swaggering weasel, and I truly hope that his first four years as president will be his final fart.