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Mink

Mink by Paul HarrisMink by Paul Harris
Scientific name

Neovision vison

Habitat

Mink are found along rivers and any wetland or marshland site as well as along the coast. They are essentially amphibious. Males can occupy a range up to 6km long.

Appearance

Mink are more likely to be seen than the shy and secretive otter. The mink is a small mammal, with brown-black fur, a narrow snout, a small white chin and a white throat. Their bodies are quite lithe and close up look like a small cat or a ferret.  They are smaller than an otter with a smaller face and darker fur. They are sometimes confused with a pine marten which as a cream or yellow bib all down the throat and the chest, whereas the mink just have the white chin and throat. Their droppings or ‘spraints’ are similar to otters and might be found near fallen trees, weirs and bridges.  These are ‘scent messages’ to other animals. They are particularly pungent with a foul fishy odour, whereas otter droppings are supposed to smell like jasmine tea! You may also be able to look for footprints in soft mud, mink have 5 toes.

Lifestyle

Mink are small carnivores. They are predators and kill a wide variety of water-side animals such as frogs, fish, water voles, crayfish and moorhens. They have spread along watercourses and rocky coastlines in almost all of lowland Britain. Mink are good swimmers and females are small enough to enter the water-link burrows of water voles and take their young. A litter is between four and six kittens a year, with the dens being close to the water. The young are born blind and hairless and can reach adult size by the autumn. They can breed when they are 1 year old and in the wild they will live between 10 – 12 years.

Conservation

In continental Europe there is also the European mink (Mustela lutreola) which is a different species and is now endangered. The European mink has probably never existed in Britain. Farms for American mink had been established in the UK from the 1920s onwards and by the 1950s there were at least 400 mink farms. These mink escaped and were first confirmed breeding in the wild in 1956. Just over 10 years later wild mink were present in half the counties of England and Wales and most of lowland Scotland.  Fur farming was eventually banned by 2000 (or 2002 in Scotland). There are estimated to be 110,000 mink in Britain. The problem of how to deal with this non-native, introduced species is a big one. The most serious effects on the mainland seem to be on the water vole populations, which are now under threat of extinction.