Weasel's Wild Ride

A weasel has a wild adventure on the back of a woodpecker.

Can weasels fly? This photo says yes—if they hitch a ride on the back of a woodpecker!

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Photograph by Martin Le-May

Published March 10, 2015

The picture, taken in London, England, shows a least weasel clutching onto the back of a European green woodpecker. So what’s the deal with this death-defying encounter?

"While it looks like a bizarre event, it's really not all that surprising if you know a little bit about these two species," says David Mizejewski, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation in Virginia.

Mizejewski says European green woodpeckers feed on ants, which means they spend a lot of time on the ground. This makes them vulnerable to predators such as weasels.

Weasels usually eat mice and voles but have been known to prey on much bigger animals, including rabbits, frogs, and birds. To kill its prey, the weasel will bite the back of the neck—which is exactly what it seems to be attempting to do in the picture.

While the photo itself is amazing, Mizejewski says the best part is that amateur photographer Martin Le-May was there to shoot it. "The natural world is filled with wonders," Mizejewski says. "We have the chance of observing them firsthand if we get outside to experience them."

Of course, the woodpecker might think the best part is that it escaped becoming a weasel meal!

Text from "Weasel Rides Woodpecker in Viral Photo—But Is It Real?" by Jason Bittel for National Geographic News

Adapted by Rose Davidson, NGS Staff