Species of minks
Minks are carnivores in the family Mustelidae, which also includes badgers, weasels, marten, and otters. Mink are closely related to the weasels and ermine, and are included in the same genus (Mustela spp.).
Mink have a long, compact body, with relatively short legs, webbed toes, and a long, bushy tail. Minks are larger and more stout than other animals in the weasel group. Male minks are considerably larger than females, typically weighing about 4.4 lb (2 kg).
Minks are semiaquatic animals. They have a highly varied diet, commonly feeding on small fish, aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, and birds. Minks are excellent swimmers, and can catch many types of aquatic prey. Minks are most active at dusk, night, and dawn. Their most usual habitat is riparian, that is, they live in the shrubby or forested habitats found in the vicinity of streams, rivers, and lakes. Mink also occur in the vicinity of marine habitats. Mink are solitary animals, except for groups consisting of a female and her recent young. A typical mink territory is several hectares in area.
The fur of minks is short, thick, soft, and lustrous, and is highly prized by the fur trade. Mink are extirpated or rare in many parts of their original range because of over-trapping for the fur trade. Today, most furs are obtained from mink that have been bred and raised on fur farms specifically for their pelts. Because of its superior pelage, the American mink is the preferred species for raising on fur farms. The natural color of wild minks is dark brown, but cultivated varieties are available in white, black, silver-blue, and blue pelages. In recent years, fur farms have been the target of animal-rights activists, who object to these animals being raised and killed only to use their fur in the fashion industry. In a few cases, notably in England, activists released thousands of captive-reared animals from mink farms.
The American mink (Mustela vison) occurs throughout most of North America, except for parts of the arid southwest. This species lives in the vicinity of a wide range of aquatic habitats. Mink make their dens in hollows in fallen logs and under stumps, and in burrows taken over from a muskrat or beaver.
The natural range of the Eurasian mink (Mustela lutreola) extends through much of central Europe, Ukraine, Belarus, and western Russia, with a disjunct population in France. This species has become widely extirpated from much of its natural range, through a combination of habitat changes and excessive trapping.
The recently extinct sea mink (Mustela macrodon) was a relatively large species that occurred along marine shores in parts of northeastern North America. This species was initially rare, and it was quickly made extinct by overexploitation for its fur. Studies of its skeletal materials, which showed that the sea mink was a distinct species, were not actually conducted until after this animal had become extinct. The sea mink was about twice the size of the American mink, with a relatively large skull, and other special characters. The species appears to have disappeared from New England in the 1860s or so, and the last known animal was killed on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, in 1894.
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