American Mink

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The American mink is prized worldwide for its lustrous fur, but its introduction into countries other than its native United States has caused a threat to its relative, the European mink. The American mink is typical of the weasel family with its slender body, short legs, and bushy tail. In the wild its fur is a deep chestnut brown, but in captivity it has been bred in a wide variety of colors including black, silver gray, white, and blue. The luxurious winter pelt is the one prized by the fur industry.

Habits: The American mink lives by rivers, streams, lakes, coasts, and marshes. When lakes freeze in parts of North America, the mink seeks open water and may live in a tunnel under the snow. The mink marks out a territory along the water’s edge with a pungent scent from its anal glands. The male mink’s territory covers one to three square miles; the female’s is smaller. Territories often overlap, and while minks usually avoid one another, males fight viciously if they meet. A young male travels up to 30 miles from his birthplace to find his own territory.
Within its territory, a mink has several dens in hollow trees, under roots, or inside the empty burrows of other animals. The American mink may have a number of dens close to water.

Breeding: The mink’s mating season is during February and March; at this time the usually solitary animals come together. The male travels great distances in his search for a female; both male and female mate several times with different partners. Four or five young are born, deep in one of the female’s fur lined dens. The young are blind and naked at birth. Raised by the female, they open their eyes at four weeks. The American mink weans its young at six to eight weeks, the European species at 10 weeks. The young minks accompany the female as she hunts, learning skills by copying her. At summer’s end, the family disperses to seek individual territories.

Food and Hunting: The mink hunts by night and in cloudy weather, when much of its prey is active. A nursing female often hunts during the day. The mink hunts in water or on land. Its aquatic prey includes crayfish, frogs, small fish, and water birds. Because its eyes are not adapted for underwater vision, it watches for prey from the shore and then dives quickly into the water to catch the victim before it escapes. On land, the mink turns over stones and pokes under tree roots in search of small rodents, rabbits, snakes, nesting birds, or eggs. Sometimes a mink kills more food than it can eat at one time; it stores the rest in its den to eat later. The mink has a thick and oily pelt to protect it while swimming.

Mink and Man: For centuries the American mink has been hunted for its winter coat of fur, the long soft guard hairs giving it a lustrous quality. The female’s coat is the most desirable because it is less coarse. Trapping is legal in the winter throughout North America. The mink, first bred on mink farms in 1866, has been introduced into many countries since then. In all these places minks have escaped from the farms and have bred successfully in the wild.

The mink was introduced to fur farms in Great Britain in 1929, and the animal is now present in the wild throughout England, Scotland, and Wales. Similar populations have sprung up in Scandinavia, Iceland, and parts of eastern Europe. In 1933 the Russians released American mink into the wild in order to produce a superior “free range” fur. Feral (wild) American mink may threaten the native European mink in many places by competing for available food. Since the early part of the century, the European mink has disappeared from Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Trapping is necessary to control feral mink populations.

Key Facts:
Sizes:
Length: Head and Body 1-2 ft. Tail 6-8 in.
Weight: 1-3 lb.

Breeding:
Sexual maturity: About 10 months
Mating: February to March
Gestation: 39-70 days. Average 45-52
No. of Young: 2-10, usually 4-5

Lifestyle:
Habit: Solitary, aggressive
Call: Hisses, snarls, and screeches when alarmed; purrs when contended
Diet: Fish, frogs, water birds, rodents, rabbits, and snakes
Lifespan: 3 years

Related Species: Genus includes 16 species of weasel, polecat, stoat, and ferret
Distribution: The American mink is native to most of North America; feral (wild) populations are found in Great Britain, Scandinavia, and the Soviet Union. The European mink lives in Finland, parts of France, and eastern Europe.
Conservation: The American mink is well established, but it may have threatened the European mink over much of its range.

Features of the American Mink:
Fur: Rich brown color. Oily outer layer repels water. Soft, thick inner layer for warmth. Long guard hairs during winter.
Paws: Bare soles, and claws that can be withdrawn partly. Partial webbing for swimming.
Tail: Long and bushy.

Did You Know:
The odor from the mink’s scent glands is as foul as the skunk’s, but it does not carry as far.
One mink’s hoard of fresh prey contained 13 muskrats, two mallards, and a coot.
The mink is sometimes called the “marsh otter,’ although it is not as well adapted to life near water as the otter is.
The mink occupies a territory for about 10 months then establishes a new one.
Feral escapees from fur farms of American mink have made this animal one of the most common meat eaters in Great Britain and Scandinavia, although it is native to neither area.