American mink (Mustela vison) are small, semi-aquatic, carnivorous, predatory mammals. Members of the weasel family, they live in forested areas near wetlands and the shorelines of lakes and streams. Mink can pursue prey on land and in water. They are excellent swimmers and divers. Mink have been prized for centuries for their soft, silky brown fur. They inhabit all of the United States, except for the desert Southwest, and Canada.
Mink have long, slinky bodies, small eyes and ears and short legs. Adults are around 2 feet long, including a long tail that makes up a third of their total length, and weigh 2 to 4 lbs. They are light to dark brown with a white chin and white to cream-colored belly. Apart from human trappers, the major natural enemies of mink are river otters, owls, foxes, bobcats and domestic dogs. They also are susceptible to lethal injury, disease and parasites. When in danger, they can spray a foul-smelling musk, but can't aim it.
Wild mink eat a wide variety of land and water creatures including mice, muskrats, birds, bird eggs, snakes, salamanders, frogs, fish, crayfish, freshwater clams and mussels. They forage in the water, in marshland and along shorelines of lakes, ponds and streams. They forage all year, mostly at night. They track mainly by scent, then by sight in direct pursuit. Typically, they kill by biting prey at the base of the skull. Males are territorial and mark their turf with musk scent.
Mink will dig breeding dens under trees, stumps or rocks near water. Or they will use abandoned muskrat burrows. They are sexually mature at 1 year of age. They mate in late winter and give birth in April or May after a 2-month gestation. The average litter is four but they can birth up to 10 when conditions are right. Males don't participate in raising young. The young are weaned at 6 weeks, but stay around the birth den until autumn, when they disperse to find their own territory.
Most mink pelts used in the fur trade come from farms, says the Montana Trappers Association website. Mink are farmed in the United States, Canada, Russia, Scandinavia, Western Europe and China. The U.S. has more than 4,000 farms raising mink and other fur-bearing animals, generating in 2009 some $250 million in revenue. Fur farmers, like other livestock growers, have selectively bred animals for desired characteristics and no longer take animals from the wild. Fur farms in the U.S. adhere to humane treatment standards of the U.S. Fur Farm Animal Welfare Coalition and state agriculture agencies. The standards address nutrition, housing, veterinary care and killing methods.