Why Does Bandita the Stoat Turn White? | Live Q&A | Discover Wildlife | Robert E Fuller

Bandita is a very special stoat who has the rare ability to turn white for winter. Known as ermine, this transformation is fascinating and is the focus of today’s live broadcast.

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Ermine

White stoats are known as ermine stoats and the scientific name for stoat, mustela erminea, is in recognition of the species’ ability to transform from a golden chestnut brown in summer to white in winter.

Bandita’s transition to ermine

This broadcast includes clips taken from my hidden cameras to show Bandita shedding her summer coat and replacing it with white fur.

You can also read more about it here: /

Why do stoats turn white?

Stoats turn white to blend in with a winter-white background. However not all stoats have the ability to perform this colour change.

It’s a northern thing

The further north you travel, or the higher the altitude of the terrain, the more likely you are to encounter a white stoat. Where ever there is more likely to be snow, there are more likely to be ermine stoats.

Bandita is a very rare stoat here in Yorkshire. In all my years of watching wildlife here I have only ever come across a handful of ermine stoats.

Ermine is determined by genes

The ability to turn white for winter is determined by a stoat’s genes. Bandita, out of a litter of three stoat kits, was the only one who inherited the ability. Her brother, Coffee, only managed to change the colour of his tail and the tips of his ears once. Neither Bandita’s mother or father or any of her kits have turned white.

Transition is triggered by daylight

Stoats begin to turn white when the days get shorter and change back only as the days get lighter. I am expecting Bandita’s white coat to start moulting at the end of February.

The amount of daylight seems to be more of a significant factor than temperature change. I’ve known Bandita to turn white even when there is no snow on the ground – which leaves her white fur looking very exposed!

A catastrophic moult

The transition to ermine is normally a gradual one. However, I have known stoats to change colour very abruptly. This is known as a catastrophic moult.

Bandita’s story

Bandita gets her name from the band of chestnut around her eyes, which make her look as though she is wearing a mask. This band never seems to turn colour.
She was born in my garden in 2016 and will be five years old this spring. This is very old for a stoat living in the wild as they tend to only survive two years. She is a very feisty creature and will not hesitate to take on the owls that also live here at Fotherdale.

A challenge to film

Bandita is quite a famous stoat. She was filmed by the BBC for a Natural World documentary and has earned quite a following since. But she is very camera shy and although I have learned all her favourite hiding places, I still find it hard to film her. Read about some of the challenges here: /

Ermines in history

Sadly a stoat’s ability to turn white once meant that ermine was used to trim royal crowns and robes. If you look at the trim around the Queen’s coronation crown the black tips are actually stoat tails.

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I am a British wildlife artist and filmmaker on a mission to share my love for wildlife with the world. As well as creating detailed animal film and art portraits, I promote wildlife tours around the world and do all I can to help conserve and protect wildlife here at my home in Yorkshire. I hope that by putting nature in the frame I can foster a deep love for wildlife amongst my followers.

Of course, you may like to purchase my artwork which you can find on my website: Many of my paintings are portraits of the wonderful characters you watch here!

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© Robert E Fuller

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