American Mink

(Neovison vison)

Photo by Needsmoreritalin

The American mink is native to the forested areas near rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and marshes in North America. The American mink and its 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 its 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 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 has partially webbed toes, supporting its semi-aquatic nature.(6)

Winter coat: Longer, denser, silkier and much darker in colour.


The diet of American minks varies with the season. 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.(7)

Colour mutations

Due to selective breeding, farm-bred American minks can range in colour from beiges, greys; to a brown that is almost black.(8) You’ll often see them portrayed as pure white in visual media, but this colour too is only created through selective breeding. A mink’s natural colour in the wild is brown. In the wild, their diet consists of rodents, fish, crustaceans, amphibians, and birds.(9)

Introduced range and fur farming

The American mink is a semiaquatic species native to North America. Its 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.(10) 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,(11)(12) as well as other small mammals and birds. Similar to the importation of stoats in New Zealand, it was human self-interest and irresponsibility that led to this ecological disruption, not the imported mink.

Use in hunting

If properly trained, American minks make excellent hunting companions, as demonstrated by Joseph Carter ‘The Mink Man’ on his YouTube channel.

Range map

Size: 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: 5–10 years
Range: North America (introduced to parts of Eurasia and South America)
Conservation status: Least concern
Recognised subspecies(13)

  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


  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 20 July 2011 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. Schlimme, Kurt. “Neovison vison.” On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 3 (2003): 2015.
  8. Bachrach, Max (1953). Fur: a practical treatise (3rd ed.). New York: Prentice-Hall.
  9. Harris, S., and D. W. Yalden. “Mammals of the British Isles, 4th edn (Southampton: Mammal Society).” (2008).
  10.  Dutch minister reverses battery and mink ban. (Netherlands).(Defeat f…. 29 January 2009. Archived from the original on 29 January 2009.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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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