Eastern mink, New World mink, North American mink
The American mink is considered by some as the cutest member in the weasel family. Its name is derived from the Swedish word ‘meank’. These animals are native to North America. Being part of the weasel family, they are similar to many weasels in physique. They are typically harvested for their fur, which is of excellent color and quality. Their thick glossy coat is usually brown to black all over its body, and the hairs are waterproof and oily, and there is a white patch under its chin and throat.
As the common name suggests, this species is native to North America, and it is found from Alaska and Canada southwards through most parts of the United States, aside from dry parts in the southwest. It was also introduced to many areas in Europe and South America. This species is typically associated with water, and is found near streams, rivers, lakes, swamps and marshes, and also along coastlines. However, they also inhabit drier areas that are not close to water and sometimes even urban areas, depending on the abundance of food. American minks prefer habitats where there is dense vegetation, as this provides plenty of cover.
Habits and lifestyle
American minks are mostly solitary animals, males being especially intolerant of each other. They mark their home range boundaries using musky secretions from their enlarged anal glands. These animals are nocturnal, they are mostly active during the night, especially close to both dawn and dusk. They are also skilled climbers and swimmers. When searching for food, they are able to swim to depths of 30 meters (100 feet) and dive as far as 5 meters. They dig burrows in riverbanks, lakes and streams, or use old dens where other mammals have lived, such as muskrats. Sometimes they line their den with dried leaves and grass, and fur from prey. American minks will communicate with a range of cues, including visual, chemical and auditory signals. These animals are fairly quiet, but they rely heavily on chemical signals for communicating territorial boundaries, as well as reproductive status.
Diet and nutrition
American minks are carnivores. The diet of these animals changes with the season. During summer they eat small frogs and crayfish, as well as small mammals like shrews, rabbits, muskrats and mice. They sometimes eat ducks and other water birds, as well as fish. In winter, they mostly eat mammals.
American minks are polygynandrous (promiscuous), with both males and females mating with multiple partners. The mating season runs from February in the south to April in the northern part of the range. Gestation is for 40 to 75 days. Young are born in April or May (late spring), and litter sizes usually range from 1 to 8 kits. Their eyes open when they are three and a half weeks old and weaning takes place when they are a month and a half old. They remain with their mother until fall, when they go off to establish a territory of their own. They begin mating when ten months old.
February-in the southern range; April-in the north
The main threat for mink survival is the continuation of the fur market. All Canadian provinces and forty-seven states currently have limited trapping seasons for mink, the length of each season varying according to the area. Another threat is the destruction of the mink’s habitat. Mink heavily depend on aquatic areas, and the creation, enhancement, and maintenance of such habitat allows for the ongoing existence of healthy populations within the species’ range. Environmental contaminants, like mercury and hydrocarbon compounds (such as DDT and PCBs), are another threat, as such chemicals built up in a mink's tissues and are a risk to reproduction and the life of an individual.
This species relatively common and has a wide distribution across its range but no overall population estimate is available. According to the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust resource, the total population size of the American mink in the UK is 108,750 individuals. This includes 46,750 minks in England, 52,250 minks in Scotland and 9,750 minks in Wales. Overall, currently American minks are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today remain stable.
American minks are important predators of small mammals throughout their range. They may also affect predator populations (coyotes, snakes, birds of prey), as items of prey.
Fun facts for kids
- American minks have excellent vision, smell, and hearing.
- The American mink has a bounding gait. They are able to climb trees and are excellent swimmers, being able to swim for as long as three hours in water which is warm, though not for very long in cold water.
- American minks are able to kill snakes but do not eat them.
- Fine, triple-refined mink oil of cosmetic grade, which covers the fur of the animal, is prized for its use on people’s faces and bodies. It is known to be the closest oil to the oil from human skin, and contains about 17% palmitoleic acid, which is an essential Omega 7 fatty acid that the human body also produces.
- There are just two mink species alive today: the European mink and the American mink, with a third, the Sea mink, dying out in the 1860s.