| Oct 30, 2008

Outdoors - Minks

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Outdoors in the LandO'Lakes - October 30, 2008 Minks Outdoors in the Land O'Lakes by Lorraine Julien

My neighbours and I have seen lots of Mink activity this year, much more than usual, so I thought this would be an interesting subject for the column. In contrast, I’ve seen only an occasional chipmunk and only a few squirrels so I wonder if their numbers have dwindled, at least partly, because of the Minks.

It is possible that it’s the same lone Mink we see, as I understand their territory can range for several miles along the water’s edge. The mischievous Mink is a small member of the carnivorous weasel family with the body of the male Mink usually up to 18 in. in length and its tail approx. 7-9 in.

Although relatively small, Minks and other members of the weasel family are among the most fierce and agile of all carnivores. For such savage killers, Minks are deceptively cute with a little pointy face, small round ears and long, thin bodies on short legs. Minks often attack and eat animals larger than themselves, killing with a bite to the neck. I was surprised to learn that even muskrats (which can also be ferocious) are attacked in their waterfront lodges and eaten. In this way, the mink gains a big meal and at the same time takes over the muskrat home.

When larger predators do try to catch them, Minks produce a stench from their anal musk glands more pungent and horrible that any other member of the weasel family, except for, of course, the skunk. Unlike the skunk, however, the mink cannot spray its obnoxious perfume. These same musk glands are used to communicate with other Minks and also to attract the opposite sex. Mink is actually a Swedish name meaning “stinky animal”!

Principal enemies of the Mink are the great horned owl, bobcats, wolves and coyotes.

Minks, with their voracious appetite and amphibious mode of living, like to dine on a wide range of animals, reptiles and aquatic life including mice, voles, squirrels, waterfowl, muskrats, birds, rabbits, fish, frogs, clams, worms, eggs, salamanders, insects, grasses and garter snakes. As you can see, they are not fussy eaters. The Mink climbs well, and with its semi-webbed feet is an excellent swimmer, making it an excellent hunter. Rabbits are their really favourite food, though.

The preferred habitat is anywhere near the water and Minks are seldom found far from a lake or riverbank. They usually like to have a number of homes in various locations in their territory utilizing hollow logs and abandoned groundhog holes as well as dens in waterbanks. I’m sure we have one of those homes in the bank by our dock.

All night and at times by day, in the water and on land, this close kin of the aggressive weasel prowls – alone. A Mink will not live in a place crowded with others of its kind even if food is plentiful. The only exception to this solitary state is at breeding time. Our resident Mink is seen every day as it swims from island to island and doesn’t seem to mind the presence of humans. Our loon and duck population appeared to be less this year, in this particular area, and I wonder if it could possibly be due to the ever-present Mink in the area. Any member of the weasel family loves to eat eggs, as chicken farmers would agree.

Mink pelts have been used for fur coats for the well-to-do for many years; however, most pelts (about 90%) are taken from farmed Mink now rather than wild. The rich brown, luxurious fur with its soft inner layer is ideally suited for the Mink’s semi-aquatic lifestyle. It takes approximately 70 to 80 pelts to make a full-length coat. Oil from Mink is used to treat and preserve and waterproof leather – it’s also used in some medical products and cosmetics.

This feisty little creature has many larger cousins in its weasel (Mustelidae) family – the otter, badger, fisher, ferret, ermine, marten and skunk to name a few. It is one of the most diverse and interesting species of all the carnivores.

Please feel free to report any observations to Lorraine Julien This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Steve Blight at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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