A mink is any of several furry, dark-colored, semi-aquatic, carnivorous mammals of the family Mustelidae, which also includes the weasels and the otters. It is naturally found in North America, northern Europe, and most of Russia west of Ural Mountains. Mink fur has been highly prized for its use in clothing, with hunting giving way to large-scale mink farming. Its treatment has also been a focus of much animal welfare activism.
While mortality is extremely high in the early months of the life of the American Mink, animals that do survive the first year can live as long as three years in the wild. In captivity, mink can live 10-12 years and have on average 4-5 kits per litter once a year. The mink is found in places which suit its habits throughout almost all North America, from Florida to the Arctic. An endangered subspecies, the Everglades Mink (Mustela vison evergladensis), is endemic to the Florida Everglades.
American Mink of other subspecies have found their way into the wild in Europe (including Great Britain) and South America, after many were released from or escaped from mink farms which were no longer commercially viable. Trapping is used to control and eliminate any feral mink.
The European mink is one of the most endangered mammals in the world. The endangered western population of European mink Mustela lutreola has shown a large decline over its natural range. The species has been extinct in central Europe since the beginning of the century and the mink's range is actually fragmented into two population units: an eastern population unit ranging from the Urals and Estonia to the Black sea, a population which is already subdivided into small units, and a western population. Inhabiting mainly forest brooks, the European mink occupies an intermediate semi-aquatic niche between the polecat Mustela putorius and the otter Lutra lutra. Polecats and European mink are able to hybridize achieving natural hybridization events between two native species (as found by Lodé Thierry).
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Family: Mustelidae
- Genus: Mustela
- Mustela vison
- Mustela vison evergladensis
- Mustela lutreola
- Mustela macrodon
The American Mink, Mustela vison, is a North American member of the Mustelidae family found in Alaska, Canada and most of the United States. They are also raised in fur farms for their lustrous fur, which is highly esteemed. Breeders have developed a range of colors from deep black to white.
Some have established themselves in the wild in Newfoundland, Europe and South America after escaping from fur farms. In Europe, tens of thousand were intentionally introduced by the Soviet Union over a period of several decades, to provide a new game animal for trappers, with disastrous results.
In recent years, animal rights activists have also released several thousands in their attacks on fur farms. Most of these released captive mink quickly died in the wild, preyed on by dogs or run over by cars.
The larger American male will mate with European Mink females earlier in the spring than the males of the same species; the offspring are not born, but the females do not then breed again that season. This has contributed to the decline of the European species. American Mink have also been implicated in the decline of the Water Vole in the United Kingdom and linked to the decline of water fowl across their range in Europe. They are now considered vermin in much of Europe and are hunted for the purpose of wildlife management.
Their long slim body is covered in glossy, thick dark brown or black fur with a white patch under the chin. They have short legs with partially webbed feet, which make them excellent swimmers.
They can be found in wooded areas and fields near streams and lakes. They dig burrows in river banks or take over dens abandoned by other animals.
They feed on small mammals, fish, crayfish, frogs and other amphibians, also sometimes eating birds, insects and earthworms. These animals are mainly active at night and do not hibernate. Their predators include coyotes, the Great Horned Owl, red foxes and wolves. They are also trapped for their fur. Their numbers have been reduced due to loss of habitat and the effects of pollution on their aquatic food supply.
They are usually solitary animals. Mating occurs during winter; males and females may have more than one partner. Females give birth to 3 or 4 young during early spring.
The European Mink, Mustela lutreola, is a European member of the Mustelidae family found in some regions of Spain, France, Romania, Ukraine, Estonia and the greater part of Russia, though not found east of the Ural Mountains. Formerly it extended across all Europe, reaching Finland in the north, but it is now extinct in the major part of its ancient range. It is similar in appearance to the American Mink.
A trend in recent years has been the release of farmed minks into the wild by animal rights activists. The result of the introduction of the American Mink into the wild in Europe has been disastrous for the European Mink, who occupies almost the same ecological niche but is out competed by the larger and better-swimming American species. Attempts are now underway to introduce the European Mink to islands too far from the continent for American Mink to swim to, in an attempt to prevent the species from becoming extinct.
It is sometimes possible to distinguish one species from the other based on the fact that the American Mink usually lacks a large white patch on its upper lip, while the European Mink always possesses one. Any mink without such a patch can be identified with certainty as an American Mink, but an individual with such a patch, if encountered in continental Europe, cannot be certainly identified without looking at the skeleton. The European Mink always and the American Mink usually has a white spot on the lower lip, which continues in broken or unbroken fashion to form ventral markings. Since each is a different shape, it is possible to recognize individuals based on these ventral patterns. Fur also grows white over a scar and older mink tend to have more such patches, although absolute age is difficult to quantify without studying the animal from birth. In fur farms, mink are generally slaughtered after eight months, but can live several years in the wild (although mortality is high, especially among dispersing juveniles). Female European Mink are roughly 1.3 lb (600 g) and males roughly 2 lb (900 g); female American Mink are roughly 2 lb (900 g) and male American Mink roughly 3.5 lb (1,600 g), although weight can vary considerably. In general, since male American Mink continue to grow into the winter but females do not, sexual dimorphism is lower in that species as environmental conditions become more hostile.
The endangered populations of European mink Mustela lutreola have shown a large decline over 80% of their natural range and the species may be regarded as one of the most endangered mammals in the world. Although natural hybridization events between two native species is regarded as an exceptional event, the professor Thierry Lodé found some hybrids, emphasizing that European mink and European polecats are able to hybridize and their hybrids were fertile.
The Everglades Mink, Mustela vison evergladensis is similar in appearance to the American mink but a darker brown.
In Florida the mink is found in coastal habitats along the Gulf Coast south to Hernando County and along the Atlantic Coast south to Matanzas Inlet. The Everglades Mink is found in shallow freshwater marshes of the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp.
Mink are most common along streams partly choked by windfalls and other debris that offer concealment and numerous water holes. Mink are active throughout the year. They are tireless wanderers and may travel several kilometers in search of food, mostly at night. They are occasionally active during the day, especially just before storms or when it is raining. They are capable of trailing and stalking live prey, but the fact that they are attracted to traps by carcasses of birds and other animals suggests they also feed on carrion. Fish, frogs, clams, freshwater mussels, snakes, rats and mice, ground squirrels, muskrats and birds constitute their main diet. In turn, mink are preyed upon by owls, fox, coyotes, bobcats and dogs.
Its diet is primarily crayfish, fish, and small mammals.
There is evidence that the breeding season is from September to November.