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Photos: Least weasel scurries through Squamish Estuary

Least weasels are the smallest carnivorous predator in the world.

You never know what animal you will encounter in the Squamish Estuary. 

Squamish photographer Brian Aikens is a regular visitor to the Skwelwil'em Squamish Estuary Wildlife Management Area and recently spotted — and set his lens — on a wee least weasel. 

"The cutest thing — and fast," said Aikens.

According to the Animal Diversity Web (ADW) educational site, the tiny creatures are the smallest carnivorous predator in the world. 

There have been no population studies of weasels in B.C., according to the provincial government. 

It is listed as yellow or a species not at risk, according to B.C. Conservation Data Centre (CDC).

They are happy to hang out alone except during the breeding season, when the males, which are normally sedentary, will travel some distance to find females.

Here are some other fun facts from the ADW University of Michigan site about these beady-eyed locals:

•The males are larger than the females

•Unlike ermine and long-tailed weasels, the least weasel doesn't have a black tip on its tail

•They must eat very regularly to avoid starving to death and are often found foraging at all hours, day or night

•They can eat over 50% of their body weight every day and even more so in the winter months

• They use abandoned dens left by prey species

• Each individual has its own defined territory, but there is sometimes overlap as males have a larger territory size than female

•They kill prey much larger than themselves

•Eat mostly mice, voles and insects, and also some birds eggs and frogs

•They are preyed upon by a multitude of animals, including cats, dogs, snakes, raptors, owls, foxes and other weasels

•They breed in the spring and summer months

•Females have an average of five offspring

•The average gestation period is 35 days

•Offspring are independent at between 8 to 10 weeks

•In the wild, they live one to two years, but have lived up to 10 years in captivity

So why do we say "weaselled out of" something?

It is often heard as a verb in sentences such as: "The politician weaselled out of answering the question."

The verb means "to deprive," and has been traced to 1900, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.  

"So used because the weasel sucks out the contents of eggs, leaving the shell intact," states

"Both this and weasel-word are first attested in The Stained-Glass Political Platform, a short story by Stewart Chaplin, first printed in Century Magazine, June 1900:

"Why, weasel words are words that suck all the life out of the words next to them, just as a weasel sucks an egg and leaves the shell. If you heft the egg afterward, it's as light as a feather and not very filling when you're hungry; but a basketful of them would make quite a show, and would bamboozle the unwary."

The phrase was picked up in U.S. slang and was first recorded in 1925, the site states.