Taxidermy is the practice of preserving and mounting animal skins in lifelike postures and was very fashionable with Victorian collectors.
This taxidermy specimen would have been of interest because it shows the stoat in ermine – in its winter coat. For most of the year, the animals’ coats are light brown, but during the winter months, apart from a black-tipped tail, they turn white. This process is an example of adaptation or natural selection. White stoats would have had a selective advantage, obtaining more food in winter than the brown creatures, due to being camouflage in snowy Highland conditions.
The fur was often used to embellish garments of royalty and officials to symbolise high status. The black tips of the tail make a distinctive decoration.
Stoats are currently protected in Scotland by the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.