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.
General Mink Facts
- North American Species: American Mink Neovision vision
- Average Size: 24 inches long (including the tail); 3.5 lbs.
- Average Lifespan in the Wild: About 8 years
- Identifying Features: Slender body, long tail, glossy chocolate brown or black fur, short legs with webbed feet.
American Minks live across most of North America in a wide band that stretches from coast to coast. In the north, minks thrive throughout 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. A mink's selection of a den may also be influenced by human activity. They will often relocate closer to poultry farms or manmade ponds where they can regularly harvest a meal. Minks rarely use the same den for long.
Minks prefer habitats with dense vegetation, which gives them plenty of cover as they go about their regular activities. Because of this preference, you'll often find minks residing in forested areas, marshes and other locations that offer similar shelter.
Minks are active year round, so they can be a pest for property owners regardless of the season. These opportunistic hunters are typically solitary creatures, except during mating season, which takes place from February to April. At this time, expecting mothers prepare a nest inside their den lined with fur, feathers and dry vegetation.
American Minks birth a single litter in late spring or early summer, consisting of two to ten young. Mink young, also known as kits, are born completely naked and blind, so they remain in the nest until they are weaned. About 8 weeks after their birth, mink kits learn to hunt. The fall after they are born, the young minks will set out to find their own territories.
On average, wild minks live about 3-4 years, while captive minks can live as long as 10 years. Female minks are mature by the time they are 1 year old. However, male minks often take a bit longer, reaching maturity at approximately 18 months old.
Minks are carnivorous mammals that stick to a diet consisting of fresh kills. They regularly hunt prey bigger than themselves. As a result, they can be a bothersome pest for homeowners, livestock owners and property managers. Minks have proven to be especially costly and problematic for poultry ranchers as well as homeowners with ornamental ponds filled with koi and other fish.
Adept hunters, minks kill their large prey by biting them in the neck. They often bring the extra food back to their den for a later meal.
Some of a mink's favorite foods include:
- Activity: Minks are nocturnal carnivores that make opportunistic kills. Minks do not hibernate, so they must hunt throughout the year for food. During harsh winter weather, they may stay in their den for days at a time.
- Digging: When necessary, minks will sometimes dig their own den. However, they will usually take over an abandoned muskrat tunnel or beaver den during spring and summer. In the winter, they opt for woodland burrows previously occupied by rabbits or woodchucks.
- Swimming: Minks are great swimmers. They even have partially webbed toes to help them paddle through wetlands, streams, rivers and lakes. They can even dive several feet underwater. Their skillful swimming allows them to catch aquatic prey including fish, frogs and crayfish.
- Spraying: Like a skunk, minks can spray foul-smelling liquid from its anal glands when frightened or threatened. However, minks are unable to aim their spray. They pair this threatened behavior with hissing. In addition to their defensive spray, minks also use their scent to mark their territory
- Purring: While they can be vicious and smelly when they are threatened, they also exhibit distinctive happy behavior. Similar to cats, minks make a purring sound when they are content.
Identify Mink Damage
Minks do relatively little property damage to the areas where they hunt, since they often reuse dens abandoned by other animals. 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.
Some ways you can identify the presence of minks are:
- Small animal tracks – Minks leave tiny, almost kitten-like tracks. You may see them leading up to where captive animals reside.
- Large numbers of dead/missing chickens and other captive birds – Minks often kill more than they can realistically eat, often wiping out an entire coop in a single night. They tend to go a bit crazy when a surplus of food is available. You may see the "leftovers" neatly lined in a row the next morning.
- Uneaten prey – As mentioned above, minks often leave many leftovers behind after a feeding frenzy. In addition, unlike many other animals that haul off and consume the entire prey, minks often just bite the heads off chickens or pierce their throats to drink the blood.
- Other dead wildlife – Have you spotted dead rabbits, mice and snakes around your yard, or perhaps a pond empty of fish? 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.
- American Minks have been bred in farms for over a century due to the high demand for their soft, luxurious fur.