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Sarah Knapton’s White Weasels!

May 25, 2018

By Paul Homewood


  h/t Chris Lynch/Patsy Lacey


The latest nonsense from Sarah Knapton, who is supposed to be “Science Editor” at the Telegraph!



White-furred animals are in danger of dying out because climate change is causing a fall in snow cover, leaving them exposed and vulnerable, a new study suggests.

Scientists in Poland have been following the worrying case of the white-coated weasel, which sheds its tawny covering in the winter for a milky coat allowing it to blend effortlessly into its icy environment.

But researchers have discovered that between 1997 and 2007 the number of days with permanent snow cover in Białowieża Forest, Poland, halved, from 80 to 40.

It means that the little creatures are being caught out in a completely unsuitable environment, where they are easy prey for predators like foxes and crows.

The team at the Polish Academy of Sciences found that on days when there was little winter snow cover, the number of white-coated weasels they managed to capture fell to as low as 20 per cent of the total, suggesting the rest had been killed.

We should not underestimate the power of natural selectionDr Karol Zub

Previously they would have been dominant, because their coats would have given them a survival advantage.

The problem is likely to affect other white-furred mammals and birds living in areas vulnerable to climate change such as the Arctic fox as the snow cover increasingly gives way to a landscape of greens and browns.


Weasels have been around an awful long time, and have certainly thrived throughout vastly different climate regimes to now.

They are also prevalent throughout most of the Northern Hemisphere, and are extremely adaptable to most environments, from snow to desert.

The idea that a bit less snow in winter will make the slightest difference shows a total lack of understanding.

Of course, natural selection is always with us, and maybe there will be less white weasels and more brown ones in Poland in years to come. To which the response is – SO WHAT?


But before we get too carried away about less snow, we should take note that winter snow extent in Eurasia is actually on an increasing trend:




As usual, the comments are scathing. This one takes first prize:




I sometimes wonder whether the DT “journalists” have a quota of climate change articles they have to write each week. And the sillier, the better.

  1. bookcrafterscoloradogmailcom permalink
    May 25, 2018 6:30 pm

    Hopefully Natural Selection will eventually reduce Science Editors of this type.

    • May 27, 2018 11:58 am

      In graduate school we referred to that as “being removed from the gene pool.” Behavior such as walking across an intersection while texting on your cell phone is an example.

  2. geoffb permalink
    May 25, 2018 6:30 pm

    This made me laugh so much, I nearly peed myself

    • George Lawson permalink
      May 25, 2018 8:23 pm

      This is the Daily Telegraph again taking a ridiculous story without question. Why on earth do they do it? I always thought it was only the Guardian that wrote ridiculous articles, particularly on climate change, but I’m afraid the DT is rapidly becoming just as ridiculous. I have now reached a stage where I question every statement they make on Global Warming and Green slanted articles, and I am rapidly arriving at the point where I shall cancel the paper.

      • Paddy permalink
        May 26, 2018 6:38 am

        Ditto. The paper is not now a newspaper in the correct sense, and appears to be obsessed with “fashion” and “celebs”. Very sad.

  3. Joe Public permalink
    May 25, 2018 6:38 pm

    She had me at “… researchers have discovered that between 1997 and 2007 …” – a full decade ago.

  4. May 25, 2018 7:05 pm

    All the rubbish that fails to make the paper on April 1st is recycled throughout the year by Knapton et al.

  5. Ian Magness permalink
    May 25, 2018 7:06 pm

    “White-furred animals could die out because of climate change”.
    Surely they meant polar bears? Oh, wait, they are doing very well, so let’s try weasels – they’ll be much harder to count so all those nasty deniers won’t be able to check if the numbers are actually diminishing or not.

  6. May 25, 2018 7:09 pm

    Another weasel CO2 demonising falsity. It is getting quite boring. Annoying as the details of behaviour are really quite interesting. No wonder so many are having mental problems.
    Fortunately I was taught common sense in my misspent youth.

  7. AZ1971 permalink
    May 25, 2018 7:10 pm

    “The number of white-coated weasels they managed to capture fell to as low as 20 per cent of the total, suggesting the rest had been killed” …… using that linear thinking, the reason then why my dating life has dropped from many to one is because no other women exist, and not because I’ve found someone I’m comfortable with.

    • Sheri permalink
      May 25, 2018 7:42 pm

      So true! It is so ridiculous that scientists are so arrogant they think if they can’t find animals, they must be dead. Applied to humans, any time a town loses half its population, then half the town died, right? Which means a lot of Detroiters collected loved ones life insurance policies…..

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      May 27, 2018 9:49 am

      Exactly. Simply not science. They have an observation – few white weasels (is it even fewer because they have caught more in other years?), then just guess at the reason.

      Presumably weasels shed white coats in response to something, perhaps temperature? So it is not remotely surprising that there are fewer white weasels when there is less reason to be white.

  8. Broadlands permalink
    May 25, 2018 7:46 pm

    The environmentalists tried this with the North American Wolverine…to get them listed as endangered and Threatened.

    AGENCY: “Our analyses under the Act include consideration of ongoing and projected changes in climate. The terms ‘‘climate’’ and ‘‘climate change’’ are defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).” “We recognize that there are scientific uncertainties on many aspects of climate change, including the role of natural variability in climate.” “…we find that McKelvey et al. (2011, entire) represents the best scientific information available regarding the impacts of climate change to wolverine habitat.”
    McKelvey et al. 2011… “This [our] approach does not account for changes in winter temperature and precipitation patterns (i.e., it does not predict future climates)…”

    AGENCY CONCLUSIONS: “We expect that the geographic extent and connectivity of suitable wolverine habitat in western North America will decline with continued global warming.”

    COMMENT: The temperatures and the temperature history (derived from NOAA NCDC databases) in the four American wolverine states (Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Washington) does not support the Agency’s global warming conclusion. The winter (Dec-Feb) trend in each of those states in the last 14 years (since 1998) has been downward. Chart attached). Winter temperatures in 1998 were an average of 0.8°F warmer than in 2012. Winter temperatures in 1934 (one of the warmest years on record) in those four states were 3.2°F warmer than in 2012. The wolverine habitat has experienced cooler winters and even the 14 full-year trend is down.
    Protecting species from human activities is laudable but using the IPCC regarding GLOBAL climate change and MODEL projections to promote and justify it LOCALLY is, in this instance, an error. The American wolverine may deserve our protection but some other factor(s) than global warming deserve reconsideration before passing rules and regulations that can impact the future.

    The request was ultimately denied.

  9. May 25, 2018 8:08 pm

    I am going out on a limb as a botanist to comment on a mammal. However, we have gone through warmings, followed by coolings since the last ice ago. There was the Medieval Warming and the Little Ice Age until Michael Mann obliterated them in the name of climate science. Pray tell, what did the little weasels do during those ups and downs? Or the snowshoe hares, or the snowy owls (we have those here), or…….

  10. MrGrimNasty permalink
    May 25, 2018 8:56 pm

    Yes animals have the ability within their genetics to spawn colour variations, if one is favourable to survival, obviously that colour will predominate in the population. White furred animals will not die out – even if they completely disappear for a while. If it becomes less favourable, the trait will merely lie dormant until such time as it becomes useful again. I think some famous bloke once wrote a book about a theory or something. Perhaps Sarah should look it up.

  11. rjwooll permalink
    May 25, 2018 9:02 pm

    The telegraph doesn’t write articles any more. It just regurgitates press releases.

    • George Lawson permalink
      May 26, 2018 8:07 am

      ….or prints articles written by their ‘Science Editor’ that are quite laughable but have the very serious side effect of influencing the unthinking masses into believing such rubbish.

  12. Nigel S permalink
    May 25, 2018 10:18 pm

    I’ve got a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel.

    • HotScot permalink
      May 25, 2018 11:47 pm


      You sir, are as extinct as an extinct thing, with a birthday badge bearing the term EXTINCT.

      You have no right coming back as a Whiteadder!

  13. Curious George permalink
    May 25, 2018 10:24 pm

    Have heart. The oldest profession has been officially banned, so some now practice journalism.

    • HotScot permalink
      May 25, 2018 11:54 pm

      Curious George

      No need to be weevil.

      (OK, so weasel didn’t work. Don’t shoot me, I’m only the piano player).

    • John F. Hultquist permalink
      May 26, 2018 2:45 am


      … being the key idea here.

  14. Bruce of Newcastle permalink
    May 25, 2018 11:51 pm

    Maybe we could apply to DECC for a grant to paint weasels green.

    OTOH there are lots of green weasels already.

  15. Graeme No.3 permalink
    May 26, 2018 12:10 am

    “the team at the Polish Academy of Sciences found that on days when there was little winter snow cover, the number of white-coated weasels they managed to capture fell to as low as 20 per cent of the total, suggesting the rest had been killed.” Or possibly the rest were reluctant to go out when their camouflage wasn’t working?
    The Polish Associated Weasel News reports that on days with little or no snow cover those venturing out are at the mercy of increased numbers of humans. “I saw at least 4 times as many as usual” reports one survivor.
    This has raised concerns that Global Warming will lead to a plague of white coated 2 legged creatures hunting weasels, and causing extinction in some areas. A spokeweasel for the Academy urged caution, saying “this is a natural cycle caused by a temporary excess supply of grant money. As that supply diminishes weasels will be able to go about their lives without fear of being trapped”.

    • John Palmer permalink
      May 26, 2018 4:25 am

      Ho, ho, ho!
      BTW, Paul – and sorry to be pedantic, but shouldn’t it be ‘fewer’ weasels rather than less?

  16. paul weldon permalink
    May 26, 2018 5:05 am

    Strange how the report can say this
    “If M. n. nivalis is not capable of responding to climate change by shifting its moulting time, it will either disappear locally or shift its range,”
    But later one of the authors, a Dr. Zub, wrote this:
    “Last autumn in our study was extremely mild and under such conditions about half the weasels we observed started to moult at the beginning of January whereas most weasels complete their moult by the end of November.”
    So the sub-species is adapting but we are asked to believe it is not, or have I got that wrong?

  17. dave permalink
    May 26, 2018 7:06 am

    It is a shaggy-weasel story.

  18. May 26, 2018 7:47 am

    researchers have discovered that between 1997 and 2007…

    They need to ‘discover’ that it’s now 2018 and the so-called ‘pause’ has been with us for a decade or more.

    • dave permalink
      May 26, 2018 8:43 am

      “…between 1997 and 2007…”

      Pure (and puerile) cherry-picking, of course. Because, after 2007, there were some really some snowy winters!

      Of the people who read the article, or hear about it, how many will check the facts about the Polish climate, before an intake of breath and a muttered “That IS worrying” ?

      So, job done! Another “cracked record” in stock.

      • dave permalink
        May 26, 2018 9:51 am

        “White-furred animals could die out…”

        And then they will revert to being brown-furred all the time!

        Weasels can look after themselves, I think. They are quintessential animals who live fast, die young, and leave good-looking corpses.

      • dave permalink
        May 26, 2018 9:55 am

        Another sort of weasel…They all seem to have a certain temperament..

      • paul weldon permalink
        May 27, 2018 6:57 am

        Your graph shows depth of snow, not the length of time it covers the ground, so is irrelevant. Paul’s graph is also irrelevant as it covers Eurasia, a huge area. I live not too far to the north of Poland (Latvia) so am aware of the climate in the region. Annual temperatures in the 1980s here were nearly 2C colder than what they are now, and when snow fell in the early winter it remained for months at a time, rather than the few days that it remains of late. Speak to the locals and know the local weather. Then you can judge. There is a lot of sense and logic to the original theme, unfortunately the media that have got hold of the story have taken away its authenticity and the response here has taken it to a further low. How about some objectivity and rational thought? I cannot locate the original paper, but I suspect it had some good research.

      • Ben Vorlich permalink
        May 27, 2018 9:12 am

        Paul weldon
        I assume that you think the change in the weather/climate is permanent?
        What makes you think that?

      • paul weldon permalink
        May 28, 2018 7:27 am

        Ben, you jump to conclusions. P.H. recently posted a paper I wrote on the effect of wind direction on annual average temperatures, to which I found an extremely close correlation. SInce then I have extended the period back to 1980s, when there is a rise in temperatures in Northern Europe (in the CET as well). My expectation was that much of the rise would disappear and could be attributed to changes in weather patterns. That has not, however, turned out to be the case. What I have actually found is that temperatures should have fallen, and the underlying rise over the period is actually more than we see in the records. So I am still in the dark as to what will happen in the future, but I intend to persevere and dig even deeper. CO2 plays its part (in my opinion) although only a small one. I would still bet on changes in weather patterns, but the NAO for example shows no correlation. Perhaps it is because the NAO works only on a north/south difference rather than an east/west one.

    • dave permalink
      May 27, 2018 8:50 am

      My graph is from this recent paper, which analyses snow characteristics at 43 stations in Poland:

      I gave up giving links to papers and books a long time ago since I know that few people follow up to read them. Rather than acting like a troll, you should simply have asked for the link, and clarification of what I meant.

      That particular graph shows “mean depth of snow cover” in the winter (DJF) at the Torun station. The authors equate this measure with whether or not it is a “snowy winter” in a location.

      The paper does analyse “DAYS of snow cover” at the various stations, and finds
      “no statistically significant trend in the number of days with snow cover in the DJF.”

      “Days of snow cover” is a highly variable number. For example, at Zielona Gora in 2009, it was 8, and in 2010 it was 68. Anecdotal reports (“…speak to the locals…”) might be tainted by the availability heuristic.

      It may well be that snow does not lie on the ground in Latvia – that it comes and goes in the winter – and more than it used to. The issue was not Latvian weasels, however.

      • dave permalink
        May 27, 2018 10:13 am

        Indeed Ben:

        There is, at least in theory, somewhere between “weather” and “climate,” such a thing as “pulsations” of climate*. In search of this, the snow-cover paper attempts to find a relation between snow in Poland and the North Atlantic Oscillation.

        * The old-fashioned “pulsations” may be better than “cycles,” as it does not assume so much repetition.

      • nigel permalink
        May 27, 2018 12:50 pm

        Ben, further, since the question of the climate of Latvia in winter has been raised – something I know zero about – I thought it would be interesting to use ‘Weather Robot’ to calculate some numbers, and just see what they show.

        For each winter period (DJF) the Robot was able to calculate the average of the daily maximum temperatures, at any station in the system. I chose Riga Airport because it was the only place-name I could pronounce.

        For the period December 1982 through February 1983 the number it gave was + 1.0 C, and so this was ‘the number’ for 1983. I had to interpolate 1997, but the rest was easy:

        1983 + 1.0
        1984 – 0.5
        1985 – 6.4
        1986 – 2.9
        1987 – 4.5
        1988 + 0.2
        1989 + 3.1
        1990 + 3.2
        1991 + 0.2
        1992 + 2.2
        1993 + 1.6
        1994 – 1.5
        1995 + 1.0
        1996 – 3.7
        1997 – 1.3
        1998 + 1.0
        1999 – 3.7
        2000 + 1.5
        2001 + 0.8
        2002 + 0.1
        2003 – 3.5
        2004 – 0.5
        2005 + 0.5
        2006 – 3.2
        2007 + 1.3
        2008 + 2.8
        2009 – 0.1
        2010 – 4.4
        2011 – 3.5
        2012 – 1.0
        2013 – 2.4
        2014 + 1.0
        2015 + 1.6
        2016 + 1.6
        2017 + 1.0
        2018 – 1.4

        The climate certainly changes every few years but in a cycle rather a trend.
        I might put it to some statistical analysis if I get a moment.

        I hope my neat format does not get messed up when I post.

      • nigel permalink
        May 27, 2018 7:13 pm

        Statistical analysis of those Riga numbers:

        (a) There is no significant time trend.

        (b) An ‘Empirical Mode Decomposition’ indicates a fairly regular fluctuation, with an amplitude from top to bottom of about 4 degrees C, averaging about three years in length.

        (c) A linear regression, using a measure of the NAO* as the independent variable, shows the NAO to be a potent influence – conceivably, it is the cause of that quasi-cycle of three years.


      • paul weldon permalink
        May 28, 2018 8:13 am

        The paper you referenced is very relevant to the issue, perhaps if you had referenced it in the first instance, it would have saved some misunderstanding? I only skim-read, but note that the paper often refers to snow cover trend being particularly subject to regional variations so that would be something to keep in mind. Otherwise the variation year to year is similar to my own location.

      • paul weldon permalink
        May 28, 2018 9:10 am

        Nigel, interesting results, rather different from mine taken from Liepaja, about 200kms south of Riga. In general Riga is colder than here in winter, but warmer in summer (maritime influence?). My temps are annual rather than purely for winter, although one should be aware that winter here is November to end of March. I have not analysed my data yet, but preliminary thoughts are that winter was on average shorter than in the past. I will keep your results in mind for the task.

      • nigel permalink
        May 28, 2018 11:03 am


        BTW, I should have said ‘ “Climate Robot” at “Weather Online.” ‘

        Also BTW, about that forest in Poland. It is actually quite far inland, near the border with Belarus, and the number of days with snow has increased dramatically since the period 1997-2007. Again according to the Climate Robot, the average number of days with snow in nearby Bialystok, in the winter, specifically December/January/February, was 58 in the earlier period, and in the more recent period, 2008 – 2018, it was 78.

        “Brown-furred animals could die!”

  19. May 26, 2018 11:37 am

    We are overlooking the obvious problem, although some got pretty close. There are too many graduate students and not enough real “science” to service their degrees. Government grants are their lifeline. So in order to get money, get degrees and get notoriety they scrounge for anything.

    Recently, at the WV Wildflower Pilgrimage, an evening program was about the shale barrens rock cress. WV DNR and faculty and students from James Madison University, nearby in VA engaged in a “study” of this plant to determine the need to be “rare/threatened.” The DNR botanist and faculty member are both Pilgrimage leaders. The shale barrens of the WV eastern panhandle and bits in VA and MD contain many endemic species due to the nature of the soils and slopes;

    On Saturday’s tour, a discussion of this program with my bird leader and 2 pilgrims riding in the car ensued. The consensus was that the study was lacking in substance and basically unnecessary. Findings were few. Most of the program discussion centered around the difficulty of conducting research on such steep slopes with such slippery and unstable shales. Several things the study was designed to illuminate remained dark. The conclusions were that the plant was doing “fine” and reproducing right along. They were unable to find how it was pollinated although graduate students sat by them all day and night. They did find that although a biennial, sending up the flowering stem could be after 3 or 4 years when conditions optimal. More than $20,000 was spent by the taxpayers for this nothing-burger.

    My graduate major professor did not believe in getting grants in order to pay students and dictate their research topics. Of course, when the above study is published, you can bet your white weasel that the DNR botanist and JMU faculty member will have their names first on the paper. BTW, that is the same DNR botanist who screamed “science denier” at me during the Pilgrimage about 5 years ago when I dared to tell him that man-caused climate change was a hoax. As a result of that screech in my face, I determined to become a student of this subject. Soonly, I found NOTALOTOFPEOPLEKNOWTHAT referenced and the rest is history.

    • dave permalink
      May 27, 2018 2:00 pm


      If you have not heard of it, you might like to visit, on-line, a once-famous, satirical, column of the Daily Telegraph, the writer of which knew that he – and it – would ultimately be air-brushed from history.

      The author, Michael Wharton, always recognized the thin end of a wedge being inserted into our orifices.

  20. May 26, 2018 1:37 pm

    If I pick up my old mammal book I read that the colour change in mustelids is at least partly induced by the temperature they experience during the moulting phase. To wit:

    “The degree of cold, also, at least partly determines whether the winter coat will be white or coloured, experiments having shown that more than half the stoats exposed to cold before and during the moult turn white.” L. Harrison Matthews, British Mammals, 1952.

    If we have similar plasticity in this case, the story really does go away…

    [sorry if this appears 2x. The first one disappeared, but may re-emerge from the twiglet zone]

  21. Coeur de Lion permalink
    May 26, 2018 1:57 pm

    When the Grauniad goes bust we will have the DTel

    • George Lawson permalink
      May 27, 2018 8:55 am

      The D.Telegraph should look at the reasons why the Guardian is going to the wall and change their policies to accommodating opposing views to the many very questionable articles they publish. The DT management will have to realise that balanced and sensible reporting is vital for a newspaper at a time when readers can easily get news from many alternative sources.
      They should seriously consider the appointment of Paul Homewood to their editorial staff in order to provide that editorial balance, but they are probably too stuck in the .’Green’ mindset to have the courage to change their editorial policy to one that would gain the paper so many additional readers.

  22. M E permalink
    May 27, 2018 9:11 am

    New Ermine trimmed robes for academics and royalty may explain lack of white furred weasels found in the wild.

    • Ben Vorlich permalink
      May 27, 2018 9:18 am

      Technically Ermine is Stoat,a cousin of the Weasel, Fur. Where I grew up Stoats in their winter white survived quite well despite human intervention. Stoats are extremely good at dealing with ducks and poultry not to mention grouse and pheasant so a natural target for those whose livelihood depends on poultry and game surviving.

    • dave permalink
      May 27, 2018 10:01 am

      The ‘least weasel’ – which is what we are talking about – forages underground much of the time, to avoid foxes and the like. Hence, I imagine that they are not easy to find on days of low snow cover.

      I do not know about Poland, but in Great Britain most weasels die young because of internal predation – 90% of them die with their brains literally eaten out by nematodes. That ‘weasel dance’ in one of my links is actually a sign of brain damage, according to Manchester Museum:

      Ain’t Nature lovely?

      I had not thought much about weasels, in the many years since reading “The Wind in the Willows,” where they do not get equal time.

      • dave permalink
        May 27, 2018 1:17 pm

        Contrary to Mr Gray, above, apparently some zoologists think that weasels are not greatly affected by having worms in their brains. That seems a little unlikely.

  23. Jack Broughton permalink
    May 31, 2018 8:29 pm

    The “i” today had a centre-fold spread about the climate change disaster for white weasels: and is going to run a centre-fold every week on “Environmental” issues ….. that is Fake-news Environmental issues. Do the press not have any duty of care responsibilities regarding what they publish? I guess that they will say it is public interest to repeat the big-lie, but also public interest to refuse to allow any comment on their big-lies.

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