Mink quickly mature in their brief lives

By Sara Scudier

Certified Volunteer Naturalist

Last summer, while docking our boat at Mosquito Lake marina, I noticed a small dark furry animal running along the breakwater.

I was already still and quiet, and the mink paid me no attention. It is unusual to see mink moving around their territory. This experience led me to further research the behavior of mink.

The common name mink comes from the Swedish word ‘maenk’. Mink are largely nocturnal, medium-sized carnivores in the weasel family (Mustelidae), which includes skunks, otters and fishers.

They have short legs, a long, muscular body and neck and a relatively long tail. Their head is flattened, and it has a short pointed snout, small eyes and short rounded ears. An adult is roughly the size of a house cat.

The mink’s color varies from brown to almost black, its belly is slightly lighter than its back and flanks, and it may have a white chin and throat. A mink’s pelt has thick underfur for insulation and buoyancy because the animal lives in and near water. It does not, however, have webbed feet or a specialized tail as do beaver, muskrats and otters.

A mink has highly developed scent glands, which is typical of members of the weasel family.

While not as adept at spraying as skunks, the odor of the secretions is just as obnoxious. This musk is released during social encounters and when an individual is attacked or frightened.

Minks are usually silent but in social encounters, and when threatened by a potential predator, may chuckle, growl, hiss, screech, squeal and give raspy barks.

Mink maintain and aggressively defend hunting territories. Muskrats are their preferred prey, but they also take frogs, fish, rabbits, mice, snakes and marsh-dwelling birds. The mink will either eat on the spot or carry their prey back to their dens.

Mink are found in wetland habitat along streams, lakes, ditches and swamps.

They den in ground holes, rock piles, stream banks, hollow logs and former beaver/muskrat lodges.

Mink mate in late winter, and a litter of four to six young are born in late spring. Cubs open their eyes and begin to consume solid food at three weeks. The cubs grow rapidly and by seven weeks have reached about half their adult body weight and length. The cubs stay with their mother until early fall and reach sexual maturity the following spring.

The average lifespan of a mink is less than one year, and it is uncommon for them to live as long as four years.

Mink are preyed upon by owls, coyotes and cats. Other significant sources of mortality include fighting with other minks, starvation of dispersing juveniles and trapping.

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