The mink (Mustela vison) is a member of the weasel family. It is about 18 to 24 inches (46 to 61 cm) in length, including the somewhat bushy 5- to 7-inch (13- to 18-cm) tail, and weighs 1 1/2 to 3 pounds (0.7 to 1.4 kg). Females are about three-fourths the size of males. Both sexes are a rich chocolate-brown color, usually with a white patch on the chest or chin and scattered white patches on the belly. The fur is relatively short with the coat consisting of a soft, dense underfur concealed by glossy, lustrous guard hairs. Mink also have anal musk glands common to the weasel family and can discharge a disagreeable musk if frightened or disturbed. Unlike skunks, however, they cannot forcibly spray musk.

Food Habits

The mink is strictly carnivorous. Because of its semi-aquatic habits, it obtains about as much food on land as in water. Mink are opportunistic feeders with a diet that includes mice and rats, frogs, fish, rabbits, crayfish, muskrats, insects, birds, and eggs.

Damage and Damage Identification

Mink may occasionally kill domestic poultry around farms. They typically kill their prey by biting them through the skull or neck. Closely spaced pairs of canine tooth marks are sign of a mink kill.

Mink will attack animals up to the size of a chicken, duck, rabbit, or muskrat. While eating muskrats, a mink will often make an opening in the back or side of the neck and skin the animal by pulling the head and body through the hole as it feeds. Like some other members of the weasel family, mink occasionally exhibit “surplus killing” behavior (killing much more than they can possibly eat) when presented with an abundance of food, such as in a poultry house full of chickens. Mink may place many dead chickens neatly in a pile. Mink can eat significant numbers of upland nesting waterfowl or game bird young, particularly in areas where nesting habitat is limited.

Legal Status

Mink are protected fur bearers in most states, with seasons established for taking them when their fur is prime. Most states, however, have provisions for landowners to control fur bearers which are damaging their property at anytime of the year. Check with your state wildlife agency before using any lethal controls.

General Biology, Reproduction, and Behavior

Mink are polygamous and males may fight ferociously for mates during the breeding season, which occurs from late January to late March. Gestation varies from 40 to 75 days with an average of 51 days. Like most other members of the weasel family, mink exhibit delayed implantation; the embryos do not implant and begin completing their development until approximately 30 days before birth. The single annual litter of about 3 to 6 young is born in late April or early May and their eyes open at about 3 weeks of age. The young are born in a den which may be a bank burrow, a muskrat house, a hole under a log, or a rock crevice. The mink family stays together until late summer when the young disperse. Mink become sexually mature at about 10 months of age. Mink are active mainly at night and are active year-round, except for brief intervals during periods of low temperature or heavy snow. Then they may hole up in a den for a day or more. Male mink have
large home ranges and travel widely, sometimes covering many miles (km) of shoreline. Females have smaller ranges and tend to be relatively sedentary during the breeding season.

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