American Mink (Neovison vison)

American Mink (Neovison vison)

Physical Description

The American Mink is in the weasel family, Mustelidae, and is larger than the least weasel, long-tailed weasel, and the ermine. The mink is long and thin, typical of weasels. A common pet to relate the look to is a ferret. The mink is smaller than a house cat by about half. Unlike the three smaller weasels the mink has the same pelage color throughout the whole year, whereas the smaller weasels become white in the winter and brown on the top and either white or yellow on their ventral surface. Minks and martens are commonly mistaken because the marten has brown fur as well; however, the mink is distinct because of the white markings on its throat and ventral surface.

Range-Habitat

The American Mink has a wide distribution being found almost everywhere in the United States and Canada except the dry deserts and the arctic. In British Columbia the mink is found throughout the province, more commonly in lower areas of watersheds and less common in high elevation environments. Vancouver Island, along with other coastal islands, are home to the mink except for Haida Gwaii. Since the mink is semi-aquatic, it is never seen far from a water source, and there are two subspecies in B.C. a subspecies that is marine and covers the coast and the ocean and a freshwater one that covers the mainland. The coastal mink, which is found in Nanaimo, finds its habitat on heavily protected shorelines that prevent serious wave activity and have lots of boulders and crevices that allows the mink to find prey. They will den in an area that is higher than the high tide line and are not found far away from the water source. The mainland mink is similar in habitat and foraging behavior, however, it ventures more thoroughly through the landscape when there are additional water features in the area.

Diet

The mustelids are primarily carnivorous and the American Mink is no exception, it is only carnivorous and feeds on a variety of different prey from birds to amphibians. Coastal minks catch food in intertidal areas, and their catch involves fish and invertebrate species like sculpins and crabs. Minks will feed opportunistically on prey and often prey on birds like grebes, gulls and other birds found on the shore. Inland minks are far more varied, hunting mammals, amphibians, birds, fish, even going into upland habitats for voles, ground squirrels and other terrestrial mammals. Minks are known to be bold hunters and tackle prey that are far larger then themselves. They also cache food, taking more than they need and storing it for later. This practice of taking more than they need has led the mink to being a very consequential force on prey populations because they will kill prey at rates far higher than they can, or will actually, consume.

Human Wildlife Interactions

The American mink has been very valued for its coat of fur. Mink fur is very warm and durable, which made people value the fur for its usefulness and as a fashion item. Mink has been harvested wildly in B.C. for many years and saw a peak in the mink harvest in 1993 at 46,284 animals that fetched $1.1 million dollars. In recent years the wild harvests have been below a thousand animals. The wild harvest of minks in the province has declined due to the ranching of minks, which has been effective in bringing mink pelts to the global market. Minks have not posed, and do not seem to pose, any conflicts with humans.

References

Hatler DF, Nagorsen DW, Beal AM. 2008. Carnivores of British Columbia. British Columbia. Royal BC Museum. 407 p.

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