Filmed on the River Forth
American mink (Neovison vison) are a member of the mustelid family whose other members include weasel, otter and badger. They all have a musk gland and excrete a pungent oil which is used to mark their territories.
There are two species of mink in the world: the American mink and the European mink (Mustela lutreola). The European mink is native to continental Europe and is not thought to have ever occurred in the UK (IUCN). The American mink is native to North America but is now found across much of the world due to human intervention.
American mink have a similar shape to ferrets. Both species have short legs, a long thick neck and a broad head with short rounded ears.
Male American mink are approximately 58-70 cm in length and weigh between 0.9 kg and 1.6 kg and females are slightly smaller at 46-57 cm in length and weigh between 0.7 kg and 1.1 kg.
Their natural fur colour is dark brown to black with a white chin patch however in the UK their colour varies greatly. When American mink were farmed for their fur the more unusual the colour (e.g. silver, purple-grey and albino) the more valuable the fur. Their fur is very thick which helps them stay warm and dry. It is also good for keeping them buoyant so that when they swim 2/3 of their body is visible above water.
American mink signs
Footprints are often found in soft substrates such as sand, mud banks and clay. Here are a few tips to help identify American mink prints:
- American mink footprints can sometimes have a star like appearance – this is because there is little webbing in the front paws and so the toes can be really splayed;
- The toe and claw can often merge together and form a ‘tear drop’ shape;
- There is always quiet a gap between the toes and the pad;
- The print is very ‘dainty’ in comparison to the ‘chunky’ appearance of the otter print; and
- Adult American mink prints are approximately the size of an old 50p
You may also come across mink scat. If it has a foul odour this is undoubtedly American mink!
How American Mink Arrived in the UK
In the early 20th Century American mink where brought to the UK and many other parts of Europe to be bred on farms for their thick, glossy, fur – a highly fashionably clothing item at this time. It took 70 mink to make one ladies fur coat! The first mink farm opened in England in 1929. The first farm opened in Scotland in 1938, where they were recorded in the wild the same year. American mink continued to escape or were intentionally released, which had devastating effects on our native wildlife. The last fur farm closed in the UK in 1993 and in 2003 the industry was made illegal.
The population of American mink we have in the UK today are descendants of those American mink who either escaped or were deliberately set free by animal rights activists.
Habitat, distribution and abundance
Mink are usually associated with aquatic habitats, including coastal areas where the species can be particularly abundant. Following several introductions in the UK they have spread throughout the mainland except to, as yet, Caithness and most of Sutherland. They are present on the Western Isles (Harris and Lewis) and some other Hebridean islands. The Scottish population was estimated at 52,250 (+/- 50%) in a 1995 study (110,000 for the UK as a whole), although a more recent estimate suggests a figure of 19,450 based on 1996-98 data.
In Europe, American mink are now present over much of northern Europe including Iceland, but also in isolated areas further south and west.
Mink are voracious predators, and will feed on a range of prey items.
Mink only have one litter a year, averaging 5 young.
Juvenile mink disperse in the autumn, and have been found to cove huge distances, up to 100km!