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Mammals

American Mink
(Neovison vison)

Photo: Chuck Homler, CC BY-SA 3.0
American mink next to the water

 

Did You Know?

  • American minks can swim underwater for over 100 feet and dive over 16 feet.
  • They easily climb trees.

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Positive Benefits

Along with river otters, American minks are top predators in Illinois’ aquatic food webs. Their presence in an area indicates a functional food chain.

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Description & Identification

American minks are larger than weasels, ranging from 17¾ to 27½ inches long and weighing between 2 to 3 pounds. Males are larger than the females. Mink have long, slender bodies, small ears and short legs. They have lustrous, dark brown to reddish fur with a white chin patch and their tails are tipped with black fur. Irregular white patches on the throat or chest are common.

Photo: Patrick Reijnders
American mink standing on concrete.

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Size Comparison

Illustrator: Lynn Smith
Man and American mink illustration
Size comparison of a six-foot tall man and an American mink.

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Signs: Tracks & Scat

The tracks of mink are 1.3 to 2 inches long and 1.3 to 1.8 inches wide. While they have five toes on each paw, the front tracks may only show four toes and only four toes appear in the rear tracks.

Photo: Terry Kem
American mink tracks next to tape measure.
American mink tracks next to tape measure.

Mink scat is about three inches long and resembles a braided rope. It may contain small bones, fur, feathers, crayfish parts or fish bones. They often leave their scat on or near rocks, logs and stumps.

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Distribution & Abundance

American mink are found in all 102 counties in Illinois, but are most abundant in northeastern Illinois, the counties bordering the lower Mississippi River and in the southern-third of the state. While they still are common, they are not as abundant now as they were in the past, due to habitat loss caused by development and stream channelization.

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Behavior & Ecological Role

Mink are nocturnal, but they are sometimes seen during the day. During the winter, when it is very cold or when there is heavy snow cover, they remain in their dens but they do not hibernate. Mink are solitary except when the females are raising their young.

Male mink travel more than the females, often covering an area of up to five square miles. Female homeranges tend to be only 20 to 50 acres. Mink tend to stay close to water. While they sometimes dig their own dens, they usually take over muskrat burrows.

Mink are quick on land, easily climb trees and are good swimmers. For their size, mink are quite aggressive and are capable of killing much larger animals. They kill with a bite to the neck. They are known to fight with each other, especially when there are many of them in an area. They have a very strong musk that they spray from their anal glands to mark their territories.

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Diseases & Public Health

American mink do not pose a public health threat.

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Habitat & Food

Mink live on the shores of rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and marshes. They often use burrows dug by muskrats, but are known to use cavities in brush or rock piles or in exposed tree roots. Their dens typically have two to five entrances and include a chamber about one foot in diameter that is lined with grass, fur or feathers.

Mink are strict carnivores. Depending on the time of year, their diet varies. During the warmer months they mainly eat frogs, tadpoles, fish, crayfish, and muskrats. During the cooler months they eat more mammals and their diets include mice, voles and rabbits. Large prey, such as rabbits, are often carried to the den. Mink will also eat snakes, birds and eggs. If they figure out how to gain access to poultry, they often go back multiple times.

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Reproduction & Longevity

Mink are able to breed at 10 to 12 months of age. Mating takes place January through March, and the young are typically born in April or May. They have one litter per year, with four to seven kits. Kits start exploring outside the den at six to eight weeks of age and begin learning to hunt. They are on their own by late summer.

Minks’ main predators include coyotes, foxes, bobcats and great horned owls. They rarely live longer than three or four years in the wild.

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Damage Prevention & Control Measures

Mink will take poultry if they can gain access to them, sometimes killing many more chickens or ducks than they can eat.

Habitat Modification

Habitat modification is typically ineffective in dealing with mink.

Exclusion

The best way to solve mink predation is to provide domestic animals and livestock with secure enclosures. This means the enclosures must have a roof or wire mesh top. All openings larger than one inch must be sealed, or mink can squeeze through. One-inch mesh poultry netting should be used over ventilation openings.

Repellents & Frightening Devices

Repellents and frightening devices are not effective at preventing nuisance mink issues.

Removal

Nuisance mink may be trapped if a nuisance animal PERMIT has been issued by an Illinois Department of Natural Resources district wildlife biologist. Mink may not be hunted in Illinois, but they can be trapped from mid-November to mid-February. Click HERE for full trapping regulations.

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