American Mink

(Neovison vison)

Photo by Needsmoreritalin

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)

Appearance

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)

Diet

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.

Colour mutations

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.

Range map

Body length: 34–45 cm / 13–18 in (males), 31–37.5 cm / 12–15 in (females)
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
Recognised subspecies(20)

  1. N. v. aestuarina
  2. N. v. aniakensis
  3. N. v. energumenos
  4. N. v. evagor
  5. N. v. evergladensis
  6. N. v. ingens
  7. N. v. lacustris
  8. N. v. letifera
  9. N. v. lowii
  10. N. v. lutensis
  11. N. v. melampeplus
  12. N. v. mink
  13. N. v. nesolestes
  14. N. v. vison
  15. N. v. vulgivaga

References

  1. Davidson, A., Griffith, H. I., Brookes, R. C., Maran, T., MacDonald, D. W., Sidorovich, V. E., Kitchener, A. C., Irizar, I., Villate, I., Gonzales-Esteban, J., Cena, A., Moya, I. and Palazon Minano, S. 2000. Mitochondrial DNA and paleontological evidence for the origin of endangered European mink, Mustela lutreola Archived 12 May 2020 at the Wayback Machine. Animal Conservation 3: 345–357.
  2. Marmi, Josep, Juan Francisco López‐Giráldez, and Xavier Domingo‐Roura. “Phylogeny, evolutionary history and taxonomy of the Mustelidae based on sequences of the cytochrome b gene and a complex repetitive flanking region.” Zoologica Scripta 33.6 (2004): 481-499.
  3. Abramov, A. V. “A taxonomic review of the genus Mustela (Mammalia, Carnivora).” Zoosystematica rossica 8.2 (2000): 357.
  4. Feldhamer, G. A., BRUCE C. Thompson, and JOSEPH A. Chapman. “Wild mammals of North America.” The Johns Hopkins (1982).
  5. Heptner, V. G., and A. A. Sludskii. “Mammals of the Soviet Union. Vol. II, part 1b, Carnivores (Mustelidae and Procyonidae).” Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Libraries and National Science Foundation (2002).
  6. Van Gelder, Richard George. Mammals of the national parks. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.
  7. Harris, Stephen; Yalden, Derek (2008). Mammals of the British Isles (4th Revised ed.). Mammal Society.
  8. Seton, Ernest Thompson (1909). Life-histories of northern animals: an account of the mammals of Manitoba. New York: Scribner.
  9. Heptner, V. G.; Sludskii, A. A. (2002). Mammals of the Soviet Union. Vol. II, part 1b, Carnivores (Mustelidae and Procyonidae). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Libraries and National Science Foundation.
  10. Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
  11. Schlimme, K. 2003. “Neovison vison” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed May 20, 2020
  12. Harris, S., and D. W. Yalden. “Mammals of the British Isles, 4th edn (Southampton: Mammal Society).” (2008).
  13. Ibarra, José Tomás, et al. “Invasive American mink Mustela vison in wetlands of the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, southern Chile: what are they eating?.” Oryx 43.1 (2009): 87-90.
  14. Bachrach, Max (1953). Fur: a practical treatise (3rd ed.). New York: Prentice-Hall.
  15.  Dutch minister reverses battery and mink ban. (Netherlands).(Defeat f…. 29 January 2009. Archived from the original on 09 May 2020.
  16. Clode D; MacDonald DW, 2002. Invasive predators and the conservation of island birds: the case of American Mink Mustela vison and terns Sterna spp. in the Western Isles, Scotland. Bird Study, 49:118-123.
  17. Maran, T. and Henttonen, H. 1995. Why is the European mink, Mustela lutreola disappearing? – A review of the process and hypotheses. Annales Fennici Zoologici 32: 47–54.
  18. Jefferies, D. J., and H. M. Hanson. “The role of dieldrin in the decline of the otter (Lutra lutra) in Britain: the analytical data.” Journal of the International Otter Survival Fund 1 (2000): 95-143.
  19. “Otter numbers ‘continue to grow” BBC News 11 June 2007. Accessed 20 May 2020.
  20. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Neovison vison in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

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