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There are two living species referred to as "mink": the American Mink and the European Mink. The extinct Sea Mink is related to the American Mink, but was much larger. All three species are dark-colored, semi-aquatic, carnivorous mammals of the family Mustelidae, which also includes the weasels and the otters. The American Mink is larger, and more adaptable than the European Mink. It is sometimes possible to distinguish between the European and American mink; a European Mink always has a large white patch on its upper lip, while the American species sometimes does not. Thus, any mink without such a patch can be identified with certainty as an American Mink, but an individual with a patch cannot be certainly identified without looking at the skeleton. Taxonomically, both American and European Minks used to be placed in the same genus Mustela ("Weasels"), but most recently the American Mink has been re-classified as belonging to its own genus Neovison.

The American Mink's fur has been highly prized for its use in clothing, with hunting giving way to farming. Its treatment has also been a focus of animal rights and animal welfare activism. American Mink have found their way into the wild in Europe (including Great Britainmarker) and South America, after being released from mink farms by animal rights activists or otherwise escaping from captivity. They are believed by some to have contributed to the decline of the less hardy European Mink through competition (though not through hybridization -- native European mink are in fact closer to polecats than to their North American cousins). Trapping is used to control or eliminate feral American Mink populations.

Mink oil is used in some medical products and cosmetics, as well as to treat, preserve and waterproof leather.



The male weighs about and is about in length. Farm bred males can reach . The female weighs about and reaches a length of about . The sizes above do not include the tail which can be from 5 to .


A mink's rich glossy coat in its wild state is brown, but farm bred mink can vary from white to almost black, which is reflected in the British wild mink. Their pelage is deep, rich brown, with or without white spots on the underparts, and consists of a slick, dense underfur overlaid with dark, glossy, almost stiff guard hairs, and pink.

Breeding and gestation

The breeding season lasts April to May. Mink show the curious phenomenon of delayed implantation. Although the true gestation period is 39 days, the embryo may stop developing for a variable period, so that as long as 76 days may elapse before the litter arrives. Between 45 and 52 days is normal. There is only one litter per year. They may have between six and ten cubs or kittens per litter.


The average lifespan of a mink is 8 years in captivity, with the maximum being 10 years.

Food preferences

Mink prey on fish and other aquatic life, small mammals (rabbits especially), and birds, particularly water fowl. Mink raised on farms primarily eat expired cheese, eggs, fish, meat and poultry slaughterhouse by-products, dog food, and turkey livers, as well as prepared, commercial foods. A farm with 3000 mink may use as much as two tons of food per day. One Wisconsin fur farm uses 2 million pounds of expired cheese and 1 million pounds of eggs per year. In all, US mink farms use about 200,000 tons of dairy products.


Great Horned Owls, bobcat and fox are the natural predators of mink. However, mink are much more frequently killed by human activity. Mink are often hunted to protect the fish population of bodies of water, are hit by cars and are trapped for their fur (although more commonly farmed for their fur).


Mink are widespread in Britain's mainland, except in the mountainous regions of Scotland, Wales and the Lake District. They are also found in the Isles of Arran and Lewis. In Ireland they are less common.

Waterside habits

Minks like to live near water and are seldom found far from riverbanks, lakes and marshes. Even when roaming, they tend to follow streams and ditches. Sometimes they leave the water altogether for a few hundred meters, especially when looking for rabbits, one of their favorite foods. In some places, particularly in Scotland and in Iceland, where they have become a problem, they live along the seashore. Sometimes they live in towns, if suitable water is available. Mink may be present at all hours, even when people are nearby.


Mink are very territorial animals. A male mink will not tolerate another male within its territory, but appears to be less aggressive towards females. Generally, the territories of both male and female animals are separate, but a female's territory may sometimes overlap with that of a male. Very occasionally it may be totally within a male's.

The territories, which tend to be long and narrow, stretch along river banks, or around the edges of lakes or marshes. Sizes vary, but they can be several miles long. Female territories are smaller than those of the male.

Each territory has one or two central areas (core areas) where the mink spends most of its time. The core area is usually associated with a good food supply, such as a pool rich in fish, or a good rabbit warren. The mink may stay in its core area, which can be quite small, for several days at a time, but it also makes excursions to the ends of its territory. These excursions seem to be associated with the defence of the territory against intruders. It is likely that the mink checks for any signs of a strange mink and leaves droppings (scats) redolent of its personal scent to reinforce its territorial rights.


  1. Integrated Taxonomic Information System: mink. Accessed 10 August 2009
  2. Dutch minister reverses battery and mink ban
  4. Lodé T., Guiral G. & Peltier D. (2005) European mink-polecat hybridisation events: hazards from natural process ? Journal of Heredity 96 (2): 1-8
  5. Haworth, Jenny (3 February 2009) "National cull may exterminate UK mink". Edinburgh. The Scotsman.
  7. [1]
  8. Despite Controversy, Fur Farming Rather Mundane
  9. Mink Farming In the United States

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