Published on February 9, 2013 by Amy
The North American Mink is characterized by a long, sleek body and short legs; a structure that is highly comparable to its close relative, the weasel. Its head is small (not much larger in diameter than its thin, long neck) with a pointed nose and muzzle and short whiskers that are only minutely visible. It has small beady eyes, as well as short ears that are barely longer than the fur that surrounds them. A mink’s fur, which is highly valuable and sought after, can have great colour variation depending on the area it is found in. For the most part, the wild strain has a chocolate to almost black pelage that is short, thick and, soft, with black areas around the feet and tail tip and a white patch on the underside of the chin. The fur also contains long, black, oily guard hairs that prutrude from the soft undercoat. Some members of the species may have more irregular white patches on the throat, chest, and stomach area or there are even cases of “cotton” pelts that consist of a light coloured underfur. As a courtship aid, and less often a mode of defense, the mink has anal glands just below the surface of the skin in the rectal area which can spray a noticeably unpleasent musk, similar to that of a skunk. Indications that a mink has been in the area are more prominent in the winter and may include such signs as holes in the snow from plunging after prey or even troughs like that of an otter slide.
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Mink are found throughout the United States, appearing in parts of every state except Arizona. They are also present in most of Canada, including an introduced population on Newfoundland. Only along the arctic coast and some offshore islands are they absent.
Mink are closely associated with the waterways and lakes of North America, but the smaller streams are preferred to the large, broad rivers. Along the coast they frequent the brackish marshes and, on occasion, the littoral area adjacent to the ocean. They are most common along streams partly choked by windfalls and other debris which create numerous water holes and at the same time offer concealment for the mink. Lake and marsh-dwelling mink are usually larger than those that live along streams.
Mink are active throughout the year. They are tireless wanderers and may travel several kilometers in their search for food.
The den is usually a retreat under the roots of a tree near the water, in a hole in the bank of a stream, in a pile of debris choking a stream, or in the houses of muskrats, which they kill or otherwise evict from their dens.
The mink is a skillful hunter and preys on a wide variety of game including muskrats, meadow voles, and cottontails, as well as fish, crayfish, and frogs. Its own principal enemies are the great horned owl, bobcats, wolves, and coyotes.
Mink are polygamous. The mating season is in January, February, and March and the four to eight young are born after a gestation period of from 39 to 76 days. At birth the young are blind, helpless, and covered with a coat of fine, short, silvery-white hair. They weigh about 6 g. When they are about 2 weeks old, the whitish hair is replaced by a dull, fluffy, reddish brown coat which, late in the year, is replaced by the adult pelage. Their eyes open at about 37 days of age and they leave the nest for the first time when about 7 weeks old. They are weaned when 8 or 9 weeks of age, at which time they weigh about 350 g. When about 5 months old, they are as large as adults.
The mink is one of the principal fur-bearing animals in the United States and is one of the few animals that can be reared economically on fur farms.