So let me introduce you to the
mink, and shed a little bit of light on this hidden treasure.
the otter and the weasel, the mink is an animal highly prized for its fur. Even though I am told our little vison still has
a beautiful plush coat, I doubt its fur matches the denseness of mink living in colder regions. American mink are normally
a very rich brown, the color of cloves or dark chocolate; some of them have a white patch on the chin or chest. Occasionally
a minks coat can be a grayish blue, and in captivity several color mutations are exploited to produce fur coats for fashion.
Wild mink are still trapped in parts of the United States, they are also farm raised, not only for their pelts but for the
oil secreted by their scent glands; this musky oil is used in cosmetics, furniture polish, & for proofing leather. However,
the Everglades mink are a protected species.
We have 3 known
populations of mink in Florida - two of these make their home in the northern salt marshes, one on the Atlantic coast
the other on the Gulf coast. The third is the Everglades mink, a subspecies that use to range as far as Lake Okeechobee, it
now survives in the swamps of south west Florida. Recent observations have occurred in the Fakahatchee strand.
The mink is a small semi aquatic mammal,
of slender build, it is powerful for its size and well equipped for its waterside lifestyle. It has partially webbed feet,
an insolated wooly undercoat, with a top coat of longer hairs designed to shed water. It is energetic, quick moving and has
an excellent sense of smell. Mink have long tails that account for a third of its entire body length, they can average
1 - 2 ft depending on their gender, and can weigh as little as 1.25lbs, or as much as 4.5lbs.
|Credit: Trailblazer blog.
They are fast
swimmers, putting their webbed feet & tail to good use diving deep below the water to catch fish, and they can haul prey
much bigger than themselves. Intelligent predators, they are territorial and noted to be quiet fierce when cornered or trapped.
Like panthers, mink are prone to intraspecific aggression, which means they will battle each other over land use. A lady minks
home range can be ½ a mile -1 ¾, whereas a male lords over 1-3 miles. Male territories may overlap with several
females with whom they will mate, but sometimes both males & females will have multiple partners. After mating female
mink resume their private lives, and like panther moms they raise the kits on their own.
The mink mating
act can have the pair locked together for up to 2 hrs, making this a very vulnerable time in their lives, a perfect opportunity
for a predator to make a meal of a mink. Their gestation period is about 51 days, but a female’s body can delay
egg implantation for up to 12 months if environmental conditions are not suitable. On average she will have one litter a year
and rear 2-4 kits, but they can have up to six. Kits are normally weaned within 6weeks, if the young mink are lucky enough
to survive and become adults, they may live 3-5yrs in the wild.
can survive on drier land if there is enough prey, but generally their lives are linked to the water. Utilizing habitat, and
shifts in their home range is often dictated by the hydro period of that region. Water flow, its rise & fall, the quality
of the water, and animals within it, can play a huge roll in the health of a mink population. Northern populations of mink
breed in spring, but a study on mink in South Florida in the 80’s indicated reproduction happens during the autumn months,
so that birthing ties in with the receding wet season, finding an abundance of prey concentrated in the ponds as the water
dries up in the glades.
apposed to digging their own hidey holes, mink often prefer to live in the burrows that other animals have made, they may
also slip in between rocks, or curl up in the hollows at the base of trees to rest, safely hidden under the pine needles.
Minks are carnivores, and in good times there are many choices on the menu - lizards, fish, frogs, eggs, birds, snakes, crayfish,
& rodents. Mink are particularly partial to muskrats. A scat sample of an Everglades mink revealed it had been dining
on a small turtle.
Mink are subject
to a slew of dangers: predation by other animals such as owls, bobcats, gators, and no doubt big snakes. They are prone to
infections, parasites and diseases. The distemper virus was actually the cause of a dramatic decline in mink here in Florida,
which the population appeared to recover from according to a FWC report. Mink have a high metabolism making them vulnerable
to toxins – they can be adversely affected by pollutants such as mercury and chemical run off into waterways.
Some human induced
threats that might be particularly bad for mink include: changes to natural water flow, loss of habitat, pollutants, exotic
and invasive plants & animals.
A perfect example are the Pythons presently known to be wreaking havoc in the Everglades, these snakes
are a huge concern and pose a very real danger to the mink in this region.
So why is their
lack of evidence that populations remain active throughout Southern Florida? According to biologists they are very difficult
to study, like the panther they are secretive, these little mink now live deep within the hot steamy bug infested swamps,
off the beaten track & far from roadside access. Looks like the mink have retreated from the rising tide of humanity,
so manning observation missions, trapping, & sample taking, proves to be a very difficult task. Minks metabolism
make them sensitive to stress, therefore any handling must be done with extreme caution. Budget restrictions also prevent
them finding out some of the things we would like to learn about the mink that still remain here. I believe another factor
is that the mink is an “indicator species”, she is a sentinel of the glades and her absence from it could simply
reflect the declining health of our wetlands. I suspect that we under
appreciate the value and roll of the mink in Florida’s waterways.
to its threatened status, the mink living in our southern swamps are most certainly a species that would benefit from habitat
protection & improved water management. The Everglades mink would be a noble representative for the Everglades restoration