European Mink: Facts, Habitat, Adaptations & Population

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

The European mink is a member of the genus ''Mustela''. In this lesson we will look at their habitat and population, as well as interesting facts about their behavior and adaptations.

Effects of Invasive Species

What do lionfish, kudzu, and the American mink all have in common? They are all invasive species that were introduced (accidentally or purposefully) to an area where they are not native. Invasive species can cause major problems for native species. They have fewer predators and are often able to out-compete the native species when it comes to food and other resources. This is what is happening between the European mink (Mustela lutreola) and the American mink (Neovison vison).

American minks were introduced to Europe because they have more desirable fur. However, they are also larger and more aggressive than the European mink, and they reproduce more quickly. As a result, it is out-competing the European mink for resources. The invasive American mink is one of the reasons the European mink population has dropped by 50% in the last ten years.

American minks (left) are out-competing European minks (right)
American and European minks

Other Reductive Factors

The European mink is currently listed as critically endangered, which is only one step below 'extinct in the wild'. It is already considered extinct in many parts of its historical range. In addition to the effect of the American mink, habitat loss plays a major role in their decline. Large sections of mink habitat have been turned into farmland.

Another issue for the European mink is canine distemper. They are affected by the virus just as dogs are, and it has caused some reduction in population. It is particularly an issue in areas where a high number of minks live near to one another.

Finally, before protective measures were put into place, European minks were often trapped for their fur. However, American minks are now farmed for their fur, which is better quality, so trapping is not currently a significant issue for European minks. The exact total population is difficult to determine, but it is estimated that there are less than 30,000 European minks left in the wild.

Physical Description

European minks are quite small. Males are only about 15 inches long, and females top out at a little over one foot! Even larger European minks weigh less than two pounds. They have dark brown or black fur. They do have some white around their face, especially their lips and chin, and sometimes you might see them with white spots on their chest or stomach.

Geography and Habitat

Historically, the European mink was found throughout much of Europe, from Finland down to Spain. Now, however, they are only found in small patches in Spain, France, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia. The majority of this species lives in Russia. There may be as many as 20,000 (two-thirds of the world population) located within that one country.

This species has very specific habitat requirements, which is one reason habitat loss is such a major issue. They are semi-aquatic creatures, splitting their time between water and land, so they have to live close to water. They only live near fresh water, along slow-moving rivers and streams, lakes, and marshes. European minks are not found along coastlines or near salt water habitats.

In addition, European minks need dense vegetation along the shoreline. The minks use this for shelter, and it is where they build dens to raise their babies.

European minks are semi-aquatic
European mink by water

Suitably Equipped

European minks, especially those in Russia, live in areas with harsh winters. However, they have several adaptations that help them survive in their habitats. One is that they grow thick, waterproof coats in the winter. This keeps them warm even while swimming in icy water.

European minks also give birth seasonally. They mate in the late winter (February to March) and have a gestation period (the length of time the mother carries the babies before giving birth) of one- to two-and-a-half months. They then give birth in late spring, just as the weather is warming up. Seasonal births are an advantage because the babies are born at the time of year when food is most plentiful.

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