Members of the weasel family, American mink (Mustela vison) are relatively common in Northern Kentucky. Seldom seen and well camouflaged, they are dark brown with white patches on the chin and chest. Mink weight up to four pounds and their long, sleek bodies are about two feet long. Semi-aquatic, mink fur is thick and soft (and warm) with oily guard hairs that waterproof. Their toes are partially webbed. They swim well and can dive to 16 feet. They aren’t particularly shy and will investigate squeaks and shrill sounds. When happy, mink purr like a cat. They are found in every state except Arizona and Hawaii.
Mink are almost always found near water. They prefer forested areas near streams, ponds, marshes and lakes with brushy or rocky cover nearby. They depend heavily on aquatic habitat for food and den sites. They are very adaptable and can exploit a wide variety of prey including crayfish, frogs, muskrats, fish, snakes, birds, mice, rabbits and chipmunks. The hunter too can be hunted, with fox, coyotes, bobcats and great horned owls as known predators of mink. Mink can live up to 10 years.
Though seldom seen, hikers often get “whiffs” of mink. Mink, like their skunk cousins, have scent glands near their anus. This musky secretion is used for marking territorial boundaries and lingers wherever mink are active.
Most folks know of mink only as a fur coat or hat. Mink has been a staple of the North American fur trade since the mid 1600’s when Europeans traded with Native Americans. Europeans were already familiar with mink as there is a European mink species. The American mink though was much more desirable for making coats and trimmings because it was much larger and more available than its European cousin.
American mink trade today for anywhere from $40.00 to $50.00 per pelt. With severe winters that can last more than six months, Russia is the world’s largest consumer of mink, primarily for headgear.
Today most mink used for the fur trade are raised on mink farms the world over. Escaped mink have caused problems though in many countries. After the American mink was introduced into Europe in 1926 for fur farming, escaped populations contributed to severe declines in European mink populations. American mink are now thriving in the wild in Argentina, Belarus, British Isles, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, and Sweden; and have contributed to population declines of some species of wildlife throughout.
Mink are alive and well though in Northern Kentucky. It’s encouraging to know that Tony saw a mink along Banklick Creek, one of Kentucky’s most polluted streams. Mink are doing their part, and for that fleeting moment one did its part to enrich Tony’s life.