American mink (Neovison vison), Idlewild Park, Reno. Jan 2015. Photo: Kelsey Fitzgerald.
- Small, furry mammals.
- Long bodies (18-24 inches).
- Dark brown fur, white chin patch.
- Small round ears.
One summer morning in Idlewild Park in Reno, I watched a mink swimming across the Truckee River. Crossing the current, it swam straight and purposefully, its body long and low in the water. When navigating over and around rocks and riffles, it appeared playful and otter-like. Reaching the far shore, the mink moved like a ferret or a weasel, slinking and hopping along the bank. A small group of Common Mergansers swam past, wise to keep a wary distance: mink are carnivores, and feed on birds (including ducks) and bird eggs, muskrats, fish, crayfish, frogs and snakes (Orr 1949; Lariviere 1999). To make a kill, mink bite their prey on the back of the head or neck.
American mink are small, furry members of the weasel family (Mustelidae), common across most of North America along streams, lakes, rivers, swamps and marshes. They are mostly nocturnal, and often live in piles of driftwood, holes in banks, or rock dens (Orr 1949; Lariviere 1999). Mink mate during the spring (February – April), often making their burrows in holes abandoned by muskrats, squirrels or rabbits. Young mink, called “kits” are born in these burrows between April through June, usually in litters of four. They stay with their mother until their first fall (Lariviere 1999).
With small piercing teeth, powerful jaws and scent glands that produce a skunky smell, the American mink doesn’t seem like an animal you’d want hanging around your neck, however, their soft and silky fur was once very popular for use on ladies coats and jackets. Today, mink are still a very important species for fur-farming in the United States and other places. In 2013, 3.54 million mink were harvested for their pelts in the United States (USDA 2014). There are no mink farms in California or Nevada.
American Mink are common along the Truckee River, and a lot of fun to watch. In fact, they were the most commonly reported species to this site in 2015. If you see one, please add to what we know about the Truckee’s mink population by recording an observation to the wildlife map!
References & Links
Lariviere, Serge. 1999. Mustela vision. American Society of Mammalogists, No. 608, pp.1-9. 5 May 1999.
Orr, Robert T. 1949. Mammals of Lake Tahoe. San Francisco, CA: California Academy of Sciences.
USDA. 2014. Mink – Pelt Production at 3.54 Million Pelts in 2013. US Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service.