Plants and Animals

By |
From Missouri Conservationist: Oct 2009

American Mink

This ellusive semi-aquatic species can bark like a dog, stink like a skunk and romp and swim like an otter.

If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of an American mink (Mustela vison or Neovison vison) bounding along a waterway, but it’s a long shot. Difficult to locate due to their scarcity in Missouri, and even harder to spot due to their speed, brown coats and mostly nocturnal habits, each sighting is a treat.

These slender, long-bodied mammals look similar to the weasel but are not as long or thin. Their much-prized fur is dense and oily and composed of soft underhair covered by long, glistening guard hairs. Their chins are white.

Male minks are noticeably larger than females, ranging from 20 1/2 to 27 1/4 inches long and weighing 1 1/4 to 3 1/4 pounds. Females measure 16 1/2 to 21 1/4 inches long and weigh 1 1/4 to 2 pounds.

The American mink is found throughout the U.S. except for Hawaii, Arizona, southern California, southern and central Utah, southern New Mexico and western Texas. Your best chance of spotting one in Missouri is in the Mississippi Lowlands, where there is a systematic network of drainage canals and ditches. The most basic requirement for mink habitat is permanent standing water. Streambanks, rivers and the shorelines of lakes and marshes are attractive to minks, as are farm ponds. They will make homes under tree roots, in cavities in banks, under logs and stumps, in hollow trees, or in muskrat burrows and lodges, usually within 600 feet of the water. They are sensitive to water pollution.

The mink’s webbed feet aid its semi-aquatic lifestyle and diet. They are agile enough to catch fish in the water, as well as crayfish and frogs. On land, their speed (they can run up to 8 miles an hour) and aggressive behavior allow them to tackle much larger prey, such as rabbits and waterfowl. They also prey on mice and rats, muskrats, squirrels, eggs, insects and reptiles.

Breeding season begins in late February and mating occurs until early April. A single annual litter is usually born around the first of May, with the average litter size being 4 or 5. Males may mate with many females, but will stay with the last mate of the season and assist in caring for the young. Young reach maturity by 10 weeks and leave their parents by end of August. Individuals are not social outside of breeding and rearing young. Minks may live up to 6 years in the wild, but usually not more than 2 years. Their main predators are humans, dogs, owls, foxes, coyotes and bobcats.

While they are not noisy, this species is capable of chuckles, growls, barks, hisses, squeals and screeching. They also communicate by scent, secreting an odor from musk glands in their anal region that many consider to be worse than a skunks’. While they cannot spray, the musk is secreted during breeding season and during intense excitement or stress.

—Nichole LeClair Terrill, photo by Noppadol Paothong

For More Information

To learn more about Mink, visit the link listed below.

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Writer/Editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler