BANGOR, Maine — Around these parts, it’s not uncommon for wild animals to show up, even in the middle of the state’s third-largest city.
Still, when you hear a critter crawling around above your ceiling tiles, the automatic assumption is usually pretty unspectacular.
“Originally, we heard [this animal] in my ceiling and we thought she was a rat,” Bangor apartment-dweller Kassondra Dale explained, after an unexpectedly wild experience last week. “And then she poked her head out from one of the ceiling tiles that we had taken out.”
That changed everything, but didn’t really clear up the case of mistaken identity.
At that point, Dale said, she and her landlord thought that a captive ferret had escaped from a neighbor, and had taken up temporary residence. A live trap was deployed, baited with some savory cat food that was sure to attract a hungry ferret.
But it didn’t.
Dale and her landlord switched to Plan B.
“The second day, he added chicken, and I added some berries to it, and she got caught that night,” Dale said.
And “she” — at least, Dale thinks she was a she — wasn’t a ferret. The landlord and a Bangor animal control officer identified the animal as an ermine. Furbearer and small mammal biologist Shevenell Webb of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife looked at photos of the animal later and confirmed their assessment.
“In Maine we have short-tailed and long-tailed weasels. Both species turn white in winter and have a black tipped tail. It was difficult to see the tail in the photos, but from what I could see, my guess is that the homeowner captured a short-tailed weasel (also called ermine because of their scientific name Mustela erminea),” Webb said in an email.
The saga didn’t end there, though.
“The kicker of the story was that we caught her, called the landlord, and he came in and picked her up,” Dale said. “He didn’t even have her a minute before she got out of the cage.”
The squirmin’ ermine was back on the loose.
But being a weasel, she also had a weakness: Chicken.
“She just somehow wiggled her way out of [the live trap], so we set up the trap again, put meat into it again, and she got caught the very next day,” Dale said.
Webb said it’s not all that uncommon for weasels and ermine to venture into homes.
“Weasels are naturally very curious and do wander from time to time into people’s houses, perhaps searching for mice. Their small size allows them to get into nooks and crannies,” Webb wrote.
In fact, some Mainers have welcomed weasels with more or less open arms.
“I once heard of a story of a Maine homeowner who was happy to share his residence with ‘Herman the Ermine,’ to keep the rodent population down,” Webb wrote.
Not Dale: She tried to be nice to her visitor when it was first captured, but she quickly learned that wild animals have other ideas about human gestures of friendliness.
“I thought it was a ferret, so I put my knuckle a bit into [the cage] … She bit me twice,” Dale said, showing off a couple of small scars. “I’m glad I didn’t put my whole finger in there.”
After that, Dale supported an ermine-relocation effort.
“I’m assuming [the animal control officer] took her deep into the woods, where she is supposed to be,” Dale said.