American mink are native to the forested areas near rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and marshes in North America. American mink and their recently extinct cousin the sea mink († Neovison macrodon), have been considered the only “true” species of mink. The supposed European mink is actually a semi-aquatic polecat; being much closer related to the European polecat and Siberian weasel.(1)(2) The American mink was once considered a weasel of the genus Mustela, but in 1999 the Latin name was changed to Neovison.(3)
The American mink’s fur is usually dark brown with white patches on the chin, chest, and throat areas. The fur is soft, smooth and thick, with oily guard hairs that waterproof the animal’s coat.(4) The summer coat is generally shorter, sparser and duller than the winter coat.(5) The American mink have partially webbed toes, supporting their semi-aquatic nature.(6)
Winter coat: Longer, denser, silkier and much darker in colour.
Behaviour and habitat
American minks are mostly nocturnal and solitary animals, with males being particularly intolerant of one another. There is however, extensive overlap in territories between the opposite sex. Their home ranges are usually 1–6 kilometres (0.62–3.73 miles) long, with male territories larger than females’.(7) Like most mustelids, American minks use their enlarged anal glands to mark the boundaries of their territories.
American minks will dig their burrows in river banks, lakes and streams; also holes under logs, tree stumps, or in roots and hollow trees. They will at times use abandoned dens of other mammals, such as badgers, skunks and muskrats. Sometimes dens located in rock crevices, drains, and nooks under stone piles and bridges are also chosen.(8)
The burrows that they dig themselves are usually four inches in diameter, and may continue along for 300–370 cm (10–12 feet) at a depth of 61–91 cm (2–3 feet).(8) These burrows are characterized by numerous entrances and twisting passages, consisting of one to eight exits.(9) They will occasionally line the interior of their den with dried grass and leaves, or fur from past prey.(10) American minks are also excellent swimmers, and have been reported to swim 30 meters (100 feet) underwater, and dive to depths of 5 meters (16 feet).(10)
The diet of American minks varies by season and region. During the summer they consume crayfish and small frogs, as well as smaller mammals such as shrews, rabbits, mice, and muskrats. Fish, ducks and other water fowl provide additional food choices.(11)
In British Isles, European rabbits are common summer prey, while European hares are preyed on occasionally.(12) In South America’s Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, several native and exotic mammals are the American mink’s main prey.(13)
Bloodsucking and brain-sucking myth
American minks do not “suck” the blood of their prey. This is a long-disproved, yet still common misconception that has been applied to several mustelid species; none of which have the necessary jaw muscles to be physically capable of sucking blood.
It is also believed by some that American minks will literally “suck out” the brains of their prey. While it is true they will sometimes eat the brain of an animal, they do not—and physically cannot—suck it out. This is just another exaggerated myth that has contributed to the American mink being portrayed as more demonic than necessary. However, even if half the story is true, simply eating the brain of their prey shouldn’t be any more alarming compared to other internal organs are that are typically consumed. The brain does contain nutrients, and American minks are not the only animals that will include this organ in their diet.
Due to selective breeding, farm-bred American minks can range in colour from beiges, greys; to a brown that is almost black.(14) You’ll often see them portrayed as pure white in visual media, but this colour too is only created through selective breeding. The American mink’s natural colour in the wild is brown.
Introduced range and fur farming
The American mink is a semiaquatic species native to North America. Their fur has been highly prized for use in clothing, with hunting giving way to fur-farming. Their treatment on fur farms has been a focus of animal rights and animal welfare activism.(15) Between the 1920s and 1950s, American minks were imported to Europe, the USSR and southern South America for fur-farming. Today in parts of Europe, released or escaped American minks have been classified as an invasive species and linked to the decline of the European mink,(16)(17) as well as other small mammals and birds. Similar to the importation of stoats in New Zealand, it was human greed and irresponsibility that led to this ecological disruption, not the imported mink.
American minks were also believed to be contributing to the decline of the Eurasion otter population in Great Britain. Further studies revealed that during the mid-20th century, many otters were dying from dieldrin poisoning; a organochlorine insecticide used by farmers.(18) Dieldrin was withdrawn from use in 1962 and eventually banned in 1989.(19)
Use in hunting (“minkenry”)
If properly trained, American minks make excellent hunting companions, as demonstrated by Joseph Carter “The Mink Man” on his YouTube channel.
Body length: 34–45 cm / 13–18 in (males), 31–37.5 cm / 12–15 in (females) References
Tail length: 15.6–24.7 cm / 6–10 in (males), 14.8–21.5 cm / 6–8 in (females)
Weight: 500–1,580 g / 1–3 lb (males), 400–780 g / 1–2 lb (females)
Lifespan: Up to 10 years (wild), up to 11 years (captivity)
Range: North America, and introduced to parts of Eurasia and South America.
Conservation status: Least concern