The American Mink lives across most of North America and is a cat-sized member of the Mustelidae family, which also includes weasels, otters and skunks. They have a long body measuring up to 26 inches and their soft, chocolate-brown fur is commonly used in the fashion industry.
American Minks live across most of North America in a wide band that stretches from coast to coast. In the north, they thrive in most of Canada except for some Arctic Circle islands. In the south, their range ends above the Desert Southwest region.
The American Mink also has been introduced to habitats across the world in an effort to increase production of fur. Many of those minks escaped into the wild and established themselves into a full-fledged breeding population. As a result, you can now find them in Europe, Russia, Iceland, the British Isles and the Patagonia region of South America.
Minks are territorial predators and prefer to stake out a riverside or creekside den in the spring and summer where they can hunt aquatic animals. In the winter, they move inland to hunt other prey. Their den selection may also be affected by human activities – they may relocate closer to poultry farms or manmade ponds where they can regularly harvest a meal.
Minks prefer habitats with dense vegetation, which gives them plenty of cover as they go about their regular activities.
As carnivores, American Minks stick to a diet of fresh kills. As a result, they can be a bothersome pest for homeowners, livestock owners and property managers. Minks have proven to be especially problematic for poultry ranchers and homeowners with ornamental ponds filled with koi and other fish.
Some of minks' favorite foods include:
Activity: Minks are nocturnal carnivores that make opportunistic kills. Minks do not hibernate and hunt throughout the year for food. During harsh winter weather, they may stay in their den for days at a time.
Reproduction: Mating occurs once a year, between February and April. American Minks have litters of four to seven young each year. After about 14 weeks with their mothers, the young disperse.
Digging: Minks will sometimes dig their own den, but usually take over an abandoned muskrat tunnel during the spring and summer. In the winter, they opt for woodland burrows of rabbits or woodchucks.
Swimming: Minks are great swimmers. They even have partially webbed toes to help them paddle through wetlands, streams, rivers and lakes and catch aquatic prey, including fish, frogs and crayfish.
Spraying: Like a skunk, a mink can spray a foul-smelling liquid from its anal glands when frightened or threatened. It is unable to aim the smelly musk, though.
Identify Mink Damage
Minks do relatively little collateral damage to the areas where they hunt. Instead, it’s their hunting skill that causes the most frustration for humans. For example, they are known to empty koi ponds of all their fish over the course of a few nights. They also will regularly visit poultry farms for easy meals.
Signs of a mink assault: You can often identify mink-killed prey by a wound on the back of the skull. Look for closely spaced pairs of canine teeth marks as evidence of a mink kill.
American Minks are known carriers of fleas and ticks. They are also occasionally afflicted with a variety of diseases and viruses including:
- Aleutian mink virus
- Mink Viral Eneritis
- Transmissible mink encephalopathy
Mink fur changes through the year. Its winter coat is denser and softer. Summer fur is shorter and sparser.
Minks are largely solitary except during the breeding season and while rearing their pups.
Minks are rarely preyed upon by other animals because they’re smart and sneaky. Still, large carnivores and birds of prey sometimes eat minks. Young minks can also fall prey to snakes.
In the late 19th century, tame American Minks proved to be better rat-catchers than terriers.
There are only two living mink species in the world, the American Mink and the European Mink. A third, the Sea Mink, went extinct in the 1860s.