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coyote

Coyote ©Ryan Brady

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Curtis Twellmann
Assistant Furbearer Specialist
Bureau of Wildlife Management
608-261-6452

Furbearers

There are 19 species of furbearers in Wisconsin. Most fall into the carnivore group (Order Carnivora), but two species are rodents and one is a marsupial.

A furbearer is a mammal whose fur has commercial value. Traditionally, these are the mammals trapped for their fur, though not all of Wisconsin's furbearers may be harvested in the present day.

coyote

Coyote ©

Coyote (Canis latrans): The coyote is a medium-sized member of the canine family. Average coyote weight is between 20-30 lbs., though they can weigh up to 50 lbs. Coyote fur can be a variety of colors including gray, tawny, red, blond and black. They are opportunistic omnivores (meaning they will eat anything), but primarily consume deer (especially fawns and roadkills), rabbits, small mammals and fruit. They give birth in late spring to two to eight young. Coyotes will form packs; generally, these packs are family groups, including a breeding male and female, young from the current year and young from the previous year. Learn how to tell a coyote from a wolf. Coyotes may be hunted year-round with the appropriate license, though the trapping season is restricted.


red fox

Red fox ©

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes): Red foxes, a member of the canine family, have reddish fur and a bushy tail that most of the time has a white tip. There are different color phases of red fox, including black, silver and a cross between red and silver. They are opportunistic, but generally eat small mammals, rabbits, squirrels and birds. They tend to be solitary. They only use dens to raise young, but will find cover during the day to rest. Red foxes are adaptable and can be found in rural, suburban and urban areas. There is a restricted trapping season on red foxes and a license is required.


gray fox

Gray fox ©Ryan Brady

Gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus): The gray fox is the smallest canine found in Wisconsin. Gray foxes, as their name suggests, have gray fur with white on the chins and throats and brown undersides. They have a black stipe down the top of their tail and do not have the white tip like red foxes do. They are unique because they have semi-retractable claws which allow them to climb trees, and they are one of only two canine species in the world that can do so. They are more common in southern Wisconsin. There is a limited trapping season on the gray fox that requires the appropriate license.


river otter

River otter ©Michelle Woodford

River otter (Lontra canadensis): The river otter is a large, semi-aquatic member of the weasel (or mustelid) family. They are long-bodied, short-haired furbearers with a powerful, thick tail used for swimming. They bound, jump, slide and play-fight to keep in shape for hunting. Their fur is a dark brown with lighter colored throats and bellies. Males can be 25 lbs., whereas females tend to be 19 lbs. or less. Otters have webbed toes and valves in their nose and ears that they can close when underwater, both adaptations to help them swim. The have one litter per year with an average of two to three young per litter. They eat primarily fish, though they also may eat crayfish, frogs, muskrats and reptiles. In Wisconsin, a special permit is required to harvest an otter. If you are a trapper, learn how to avoid otter [PDF].


fisher

Fisher ©

Fisher (Martes pennanti): The fisher is a medium-sized member of the weasel family. Fisher are dark brown to almost black in color with bushy tails. Males can be up to 15 lbs. but females are usually half that size. Fisher have one litter of one to five kits per year. They spend their resting time in trees and will eat small mammals, squirrels and porcupines, among other prey. Fisher were reintroduced to Wisconsin in the 1950s. By the 1980s, their population had rebounded enough to have a limited harvest. Fisher sometimes get confused for cougars, especially when in their short summer coats. Learn how to avoid mistaken identity. In Wisconsin, a special permit is required to harvest a fisher.


badger

Badger ©Tom Prestby

Badger (Taxidea taxus): The badger, Wisconsin's state mammal, is a wide-bodied, short-legged mustelid (member of the weasel family) with long, powerful claws used for digging. The badger has a grizzled gray appearance and distinctive black patches on its face and a white stripe from its nose to partway down its back. Average adult size is 12-16 lbs. Badgers dig burrows, sometimes with multiple tunnels and chambers. Often, they will dig new burrows instead of using old burrows. Badgers are solitary except during breeding season. They forage by digging up ground squirrels, moles and other small mammals. The badger is a non-game species and may not be harvested in Wisconsin. Recently, a graduate student at UW-Madison studied badgers in the southwestern portion of Wisconsin and a graduate student at UW-Milwaukee is concluding a badger genetics study.


American marten

American marten ©

American (pine) marten (Martes americana): The marten is Wisconsin's endangered furbearer. A member of the weasel family, this 1-3.5 lb mammal is adept at climbing trees. American marten give birth between March and May to three to four young, usually in tree dens, though they will also den in fallen logs, rocks, squirrel nests and woodpecker holes. Once extirpated from Wisconsin, they were re-introduced and are now found primarily in and around the Chequemagon-Nicolet National Forest. In 2008-2010, a second wave of reintroductions were made to supplement Wisconsin's existing population. They prefer large areas of mature or old growth upland conifer and northern hardwood forests, especially with a lot of fallen timber and downed woody debris. Marten may not be harvested in Wisconsin and special "marten protection zones" exist with limited trapping to avoid incidental capture of this species. Learn how trappers can avoid marten [PDF]. Research on martens is ongoing. Learn more about this endangered mammal.


Mink

Mink ©Ryan Brady

Mink (Neovison vison): The mink is a semi-aquatic furbearer common throughout Wisconsin. These carnivores have short, dense, chocolate-colored fur and may have white patches on their chest and belly. Mink generally weigh 1.5-2 lbs. with males being larger than females. They eat muskrats, fish, reptiles, amphibians, waterfowl, eggs and small mammals like mice. While they prefer to hunt around water bodies, they will travel and forage for food in upland habitats as well. Like all members of the weasel family, mink have delayed implantation, meaning the fertilized egg doesn't implant to the uterine wall immediately. Mink give birth in late spring to 5-6 young. Mink may be harvested during a limited, regulated season with the appropriate license.


long-tailed weasel

Long-tailed weasel
©National Park Service

Long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata): The long-tailed weasel is the largest weasel found in Wisconsin, though they are only slightly larger than the more common short-tailed weasel. They are usually 13-18 inches long with a black-tipped, 4-6 inch tail. They are brown on top with white or cream-colored throats or bellies, but like all three species of weasels in Wisconsin their fur may turn completely white in the winter. Like all mustelids, the long-tailed weasel has delayed implantation, so they breed in July, but don't give birth until the next spring. Weasels den in hollow stumps, tree roots, rock piles or under buildings and have an average of six young. Small mammals, rabbits and birds are the common prey items. All three species of weasel may be trapped year-round with a trapping license.


short-tailed weasel

Short-tailed weasel ©Jack Freriks

Short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea): The short-tailed weasel is the most abundant weasel in Wisconsin. At around a foot long, the short-tailed weasel is smaller than the long-tailed weasel and has a 2-4 inch tail with a black tip. They are similar in color to the long-tailed and, like the long-tailed, their fur may turn white in the winter. Long-tailed and short-tailed weasels can be difficult to tell apart, but in most parts of the state the short-tailed weasel is the most likely to be seen. Tail length is the only good way to distinguish between the two, but it can be challenging to tell in the wild. Like most members of the weasel family, they are nocturnal, and they consume similar prey to the long-tailed weasel. Weasels may be trapped year-round by those possessing a valid trapping license.


least weasel

Least weasel ©Keven Law

Least weasel (Mustela nivalis): The smallest of the weasels found in Wisconsin, the least weasel is about 6-inches long, with a short tail. They are the smallest living carnivore in the world. Unlike the other two weasels in Wisconsin, least weasels don't have black tips on their tails, though they may have a few black hairs. Least weasels, like all Wisconsin weasels, may turn completely white in winter. Their reproduction is similar to other weasels, as they have six young in spring and den in hollow stumps, tree roots or rock piles. They also have similar diets to the other two species of weasel, preying primarily on small mammals and birds. Their small size means they are difficult to trap and their fur does not have much commercial value, though the pelts are used for education. Least weasels may be harvested year-round with a valid trapping license.


beaver

Beaver ©

Beaver (Castor canadensis): Wisconsin was settled by traders looking to purchase beaver pelts from Native Americans. Beaver fur was used to make high-quality hats popular at the time. The beaver is the second largest rodent in the world and can weigh up to 80 lbs., though the average weight is 40-50 lbs. They are aquatic rodents and have large, flat, scaled tails that are very distinctive. Beavers live in family groups and are known for being habitat engineers. They build dams to block flowing water to form wetlands and ponds and live in large houses they construct. They give birth to 2-5 kits in May or June and young disperse after 2 years with their parents. Beaver may be trapped during a regulated season with a valid trapping license and taken by landowners when damage is occurring.


muskrat

Muskrat ©Herbert Lange

Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus): Muskrats are one of the most valuable furbearers in Wisconsin in present day. They are small, brown-furred aquatic rodents with scaly tails. Muskrats build feed beds, or loose rafts of vegetation, that they sit on in order to eat the aquatic vegetation they prefer. They build "houses" that they live and raise their young in, which are piles of mud, sticks, grass, cattails and other aquatic vegetation with chambers inside, or they live in dens dug into banks. In good habitat with excellent food resources, they can breed up to four times a year and can have anywhere between 1-11 young per litter. Young muskrats are on their own in 3-4 weeks and can be sexually mature at six months of age. Muskrats may be harvested during a regulated season in the winter with the appropriate license.


bobcat

Bobcat ©Thad Molling

Bobcat (Lynx rufus): The bobcat is our most-seen member of the cat family, though it is still uncommon in some areas of Wisconsin. They average 20-30 lbs., and have light brown fur with spots and a short tail with black bands on the top of the tail. Like all cats, bobcats can breed year-round, though they usually only have one litter of 2-four kittens per year. Historically a northern Wisconsin species, in recent years sightings have increased in the central and southern portions of the state. Bobcats are solitary except when breeding. Common food items include rabbits, small mammals and deer. Research on bobcats is on-going in Wisconsin. A special permit is required to harvest a bobcat.


Canada lynx

Canada lynx ©Keith Williams

Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis): Canada lynx are very uncommon in Wisconsin and we usually only see rare visitors from Canada. Canada lynx are a federally threatened species and as such are protected in Wisconsin. Lynx resemble bobcats except that they have solid black on the top and bottom of their tail instead of bands on the top like bobcats. They also tend to have longer ear tufts and very large feet. Of the three cat species we occasionally see in Wisconsin (bobcat, lynx and cougar), lynx have the largest tracks. Their large, furred feet act as snowshoes to allow them to walk on top of snow. They primarily eat hares, though they will also eat rabbits and small mammals. Lynx are known for having cyclic populations (meaning populations increase to a peak over a few years and then decrease to a low over a few years) that correspond with snowshoe hare population cycles. Lynx may not be harvested in Wisconsin. If you are a trapper, learn how to avoid lynx [PDF]. If you see a lynx, please complete the rare mammal reporting form.


raccoon

Raccoon ©Herbert Lange

Raccoon (Procyon lotor): Raccoons are a common and well-known furbearer in Wisconsin. Next to the muskrat, it is the most commonly trapped species in Wisconsin and as such is of economic importance. They have distinctive black masks and ringed tails that are easily recognizable. They can live almost anywhere and will eat almost anything. As such, they do very well in urban areas where they have access to human-supplied sources of food, including pet food and trash. Raccoons may be trapped during a limited, regulated season with the proper license, though animals causing damage may be removed during other times of year. Raccoons carry many diseases that can affect human and/or pet health.


opossum

Opossum ©Herbert Lange

Opossum (Didelphis virginiana): The opossum is the only marsupial (or pouched mammal) in Wisconsin. They have hairless, prehensile tails which they can use to grasp tree branches. They have the most teeth, 50, of any North American mammal. Male opossums average 6-7 lbs., though females tend to be smaller. Opossums may have 5-13 young, though when they are born, the whole litter can weigh less than a penny. Opossum are omnivorous, meaning they will eat any plant or animal they come across. Historically a southern species, the range of the opossum is creeping northward, though opossum's ears in the north will often show signs of frostbite. Grinners, as opossums are sometimes called in the trapping world, may be harvested year-round in Wisconsin with the appropriate license.


striped skunk

Striped skunk ©Tom Freidel

Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis): The striped skunk is a very distinctive mammal. Once thought to be in the weasel family, they are now in their own family with the five other species of skunks [exit DNR] found in North America. They average four to six lbs. in weight, and have long, bushy tails. They are well-known for their black fur with white stripes and their strong musk they spray as a defense. This musk is actually used as a base in many high-quality perfumes. Averaging six young, striped skunks give birth in May. They are nocturnal, meaning active at night, like most of the furbearers of Wisconsin. Their preferred food is mice, insects, fruits, carrion, eggs, reptiles and amphibians. Skunks may be harvested year-round in Wisconsin with a valid license.


spotted skunk

Spotted skunk
©National Park Service

Spotted skunk (Spilogale putoris): Historic records have documented the spotted skunk in the southwestern corner of Wisconsin, but there have been no records of them in the state for several decades. They have the same black fur as striped skunks, but have white blotches all over instead of the distinctive white back stripes of striped skunks. Formerly common to farmland areas of Wisconsin, they are now found in the western plains states and in the southern U.S. The spotted skunk is smaller than the striped skunk at 1-4 lbs. It has the same strong musk smell as striped skunks and stands on its front feet and stamps its feet when it feels threatened. Diet and breeding are similar to the striped skunk. If you see a spotted skunk or document one on a trail camera, please report it to the assistant furbearer ecologist.


wolf

Wolf ©

black bear

Black bear ©

cougar

Cougar ©

Wolves and black bear, though their fur may be used for rugs or as taxidermy mounts, are commonly considered large carnivores. Cougars are a rare mammal in Wisconsin.


Last revised: Wednesday April 05 2017