American Mink: Behavior, Habitat & Facts

Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia has a BSChE. She's an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting.

The American mink, or Neovison vison, is a member of the weasel family. It is often harvested for its soft fur. This lesson is about the American mink, its behavior, habitat, diet and life cycle.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

Imagine you are a North American farmer and one day you hear a big ruckus with a lot of clucking, so you go out to check on your chickens. They are scurrying away in terror from a brown, furry animal of some kind.

You try to get closer, and discover that the furry animal is moving rather slowly and is slightly overweight. Somehow, he does not look like a wild animal.

You've just met an American mink who has escaped from a local mink farm!

American Mink
American Mink

American Mink Description and Habitat

The American mink, or Neovison vison, is a rather cute, furry animal with dark brown fur and a long tail. It has a long, slender body with short, stubby legs and webbed feet. Its ears are tiny and round. The American mink's fur is the reason why it is so often farmed, and it is very soft. There is a fine underfur beneath an outer layer of oily fur that is water-resistant. The fur can have color variations, but it is usually dark brown to black with white patches on the chin and throat. The American mink is about 22 to 28 inches long, and males are slightly larger than females.

The American mink inhabits most of North America from Alaska to Canada. It is usually found in wet areas such as swamps and marshlands or along rivers, lakes and streams. The American mink can appear in drier areas if food supplies are abundant, but it prefers habitats with dense vegetation to provide cover. They also sometimes take over the abandoned huts and burrows of muskrats and beavers.

Behavior and Diet

The American mink is usually nocturnal, or active at night. It is a good tree climber as well as swimmer and can dive up to about sixteen feet. It is an excellent predator and will take on prey that is larger than itself. The American mink can kill more prey than it can eat at one time and stores it to feed upon later.

American minks spend most of their time alone, except during mating season. They have anal glands that can secrete a foul-scented fluid to ward off predators and mark an area as their own territory. Like skunks, they can empty the contents of these glands when under stress, but the distance that they can send these secretions is more limited than that of a skunk.

The diet of the American mink depends largely on the season and on the location, but they are carnivores, or flesh eaters. They eat fish, amphibians, birds, insects, snakes and worms. They may also hunt rabbits and squirrels. The minks kill their prey by biting them on the throat.

Mating and Reproduction

Mating of the American mink takes place in the spring between February and April. The female mink has delayed implantation, which means that the fertilized egg does not become planted in the uterus right away. The entire gestation period is from 39 to 78 days, but the development of the embryo itself, once the fertilized egg is planted, takes only 30 to 32 days.

The mother then gives birth to a litter of two to ten young, with four or five being the most common. The baby minks are called ''cubs'' or ''kits''. The cubs are born in an elegant nest lined with fur, feathers and plant materials. They are blind and helpless at birth, but at four to five weeks, they open their eyes. About a week or two after that, the cubs are weaned, and then they begin hunting at about eight weeks old. They remain with the mother until autumn.

American minks breed once a year. The females reach sexual maturity at 12 months and the males at 18 months.

American Mink Longevity and Mink Farms

Minks in the wild live for about three years. In captivity, they can live up to eight to ten years. They are sometimes kept as pets, and they are also raised in mink farms.

Minks are popular commercially for their luxurious fur. The American mink is the most popular species raised in the fur farming industry. However, these farm-raised minks do escape quite frequently. This may create a threat to the wild mink populations because the domesticated, farm-raised minks can interbreed with wild minks. Domestic genes then enter into the wild mink population, which can compromise their ability to survive. Diseases may also be spread from the farmed mink population to the minks living in the wild.

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