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The mind of a mink

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I was walking along a lake on a Pennsylvania Game Land tract a few days back when I saw a dark furry shape in some grass not too far off. It was rolling around on its back in the dew-laden grass, seemingly without a care in the world. I slowly walked toward it, and only when I was almost on top of it did it lock eyes with me as if to say, “What are you doing here?” It dashed into some tall grass, but still kept an eye on me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw more movement: a half dozen northern water snakes—my original quarry—had abandoned their basking rock on the shore and disappeared into the water. However, I still had eyes on my furry friend; I had found a mink.

The American mink (Mustela vison) is widespread through our region. They are semi-aquatic members of the family Mustelidea; members include mammals such as otters, fishers, weasels and skunks. The shape of a mink somewhat resembles a weasel: short legs with a long body, bushy tail and pointed muzzle. Its fur is chocolate brown in color and prized by trappers for its pelt. Adults can get up to two pounds in weight and about two feet in length. Females are about 15% smaller Someone who sees a mink for the first time may mistake it for an otter, but an otter is much larger and has a stout tail.

Minks are predators and feed on anything they can catch: muskrat, fish, snakes and insects can be found on the mink’s menu. Minks are opportunistic and use some intelligence when selecting prey. If fish are plentiful, a mink will not likely incur extra risk by attempting to prey on a fully grown muskrat. Make no mistake, no matter how cute a mink may appear, they are fierce fighters.

Although the fur market is depressed for many species, interest in mink trapping is still high. Trapping seasons have been established in both New York and PA, as mink populations are healthy in most regions. On occasion, when a house is located within mink habitat, a particular animal or family of animals may be deemed as “nuisance wildlife,” as they may feed on chickens or other small domestic animals. In this case, a permit is required from the respective state agency in order to take mink or consult a wildlife pest control company. For managed wild areas, steps such as planting more cover vegetation will help in cutting down mink predation.

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