American mink

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American mink

American mink ( Neovison vison )

Subordination : Canine (Caniformia)
Superfamily : Marten relatives (Musteloidea)
Family : Marten (Mustelidae)
Subfamily : Mustelinae
Genre : Neovison
Type : American mink
Scientific name of the  genus
Baryshnikov & Abramov , 1997
Scientific name of the  species
Neovison vison
( Schreber , 1777)

The American mink or Mink ( Neovison vison , Syn .: Mustela vison ) is a species of predator from the marten family (Mustelidae). Originally only found in North America , it is now also at home in Europe as a captive refugee from fur farms . It is not very closely related to the European mink and the species cannot be crossed.


American minks have an elongated body with relatively short limbs and tails. The face is flat and pointed, the toes are partly webbed to adapt to the semi-aquatic way of life. An anal gland secretes a musky secretion, the smell of which is sometimes described as more penetrative than that of the skunks . The soft, dense fur is water-repellent, its basic color is brown. The chin is colored white, sometimes white spots are visible on the throat and stomach. Many color variants are now available through breeding. The animals reach a head body length of 30 to 43 centimeters, a tail length of 13 to 23 centimeters and a weight of 0.7 to 2.3 kilograms, whereby the males are significantly heavier than the females. American minks can therefore become much heavier than their European cousins. This means that the males of the American mink are preferred by the females of the European mink as mating partners. However, coverage is not possible. This is seen as a possibly major cause of the endangerment of the European mink population.

distribution and habitat

Distribution area of ​​the mink in North America

Originally the species was restricted to North America . It occurred in Alaska , in almost all of Canada (with the exception of the far north) and in the core area of ​​the United States (the 48 contiguous states) except for the southwestern parts. Since the 1950s, animals escaped or released from mink farms have spread throughout Europe and largely displaced the native European mink .

American minks are bound to the water. They can be found along rivers and lakes as well as in swamps and marshland. But you need bank areas densely covered with vegetation. Inlets and islands near the coast are also populated by them.

Way of life

These animals are usually crepuscular or nocturnal. During the day they hide in burrows that they have dug themselves or taken over from other animals, sometimes under stones or in tree roots. Self-dug burrows can be up to three meters long and often have several entrances. Minks are excellent at swimming and can dive to depths of six meters. Outside of the mating season they live solitary and react extremely aggressively to other species. The territorial boundaries are marked with the secretion of the anal gland, the size of the territories is variable, those of females are usually 8 to 20 hectares, territories of males are larger and can sometimes cover 800 hectares.


American minks are carnivores that feed on a wide variety of prey. They eat small mammals (such as muskrats , rabbits and shrews ), crabs and frogs, among other things . Sometimes they also prey on water birds and fish . In Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein, for example, the mink now lives along the Elbe; "Liberated" by "animal rights activists" from farms, it affects the meadow breeding populations there.


Once a year, the female gives birth to two to ten (five on average) young after a gestation period of around 40 to 80 days. The high variance in gestation duration is probably due to delayed implantation of the fertilized egg cell. The mating season falls in the months of February to the beginning of April, the birth at the end of April or May. At birth, the female clothes a nest with fur, feathers and dry plants, where the newborns spend their first weeks of life. They are weaned after five to six weeks, and in autumn they leave their mother for good. Females reach sexual maturity at around one year and males at 18 months. Life expectancy is estimated at a maximum of ten years.

American mink and human

A mink in the wild in northern Germany
Distribution area worldwide

American minks were hunted early on for their fur, which is considered to be particularly valuable. The first successful breeding attempts on fur farms began in the United States around 1900. Therefore, American cultivated ores were also introduced in Europe . Color mutations resulted from human influence , for example pure white, black or silver-blue specimens, also called sapphire mink (for more details see → Mink fur ). A breeding of the European mink with the less attractive fur did not take place.

Animals that have fled from farms in Europe or were released from opponents of fur in the context of so-called "liberation campaigns" have spread over large areas there, displacing their European relatives in many places and driving them to the brink of extinction. In addition, they are often already putting a lot of pressure on other species, such as young waterfowl. There are now wild populations in Iceland , Scandinavia , the British Isles , France , Spain , Austria , Germany , Poland and much of Russia, among others . In the UK, where the mink population dates back to animals escaping fur farms in the 1950s, the spread of the American mink has had a delicate impact on the local ecosystem. For example, the population of water voles has declined by more than 20 percent, which is partly attributed to the spread of the American mink. In northern Kent in the area of ​​the Isle of Sheppey and the Hoo peninsula , a program for the targeted extermination of the American mink was started in December 2012. A similar program had previously been successfully carried out in Scotland.

Mink farms are particularly criticized by animal rights activists . Except for the fact that the critics usually any breeding for fur purposes and perfume extraction ( mink ) reject the criticism in mink mainly due to the Gehege- or cage size, keeping in cages itself, the individual housing and the lack of focus of swimming water. The breeders, on the other hand, argue that keeping the mink in the ground promotes the transmission of diseases and that the long domestication sequence means that the mink does not need swimming water for its wellbeing. Killing in fur farms is usually done with carbon monoxide gas.

Most of the mink in Europe are still grown in Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands. In Scandinavia and Holland in particular, the processing of meat and fish waste as fur animal feed is an essential basis for fur farming. Fur farming has been restricted in Austria, Great Britain and Switzerland, while China has grown into one of the most important breeding countries for mink in about a decade. In Germany there are still a few dozen mink farms with a focus on North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony.

In North America (especially in the Canadian province of Ontario and in the US state of Minnesota ) the mink is the most common final host and main reservoir of the kidney worm , a parasite that can also infect humans and dogs .


Natural enemies of the mink are foxes, otters or a natural reduction by distemper . The main risk factors include hunting by humans and predation by stray cats and dogs. As a widespread species, the American mink is listed as Least Concern on the Red List of Endangered Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN).


Traditionally, the American mink was classified in the genus Mustela along with the European mink and some weasels . According to recent studies, however, it is only distantly related to these and is therefore classified together with the extinct sea ore in a separate genus, Neovison .


  • Ronald M. Nowak: Walker's Mammals of the World . 6th edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1999, ISBN 0-8018-5789-9 (English).
  • DE Wilson, DM Reeder: Mammal Species of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 2005, ISBN 0-8018-8221-4 .
  • P. Marchesi, C. Mermod, HC Salzmann: Marten, polecat, mink and weasel. Haupt Verlag, Bern 2011, p. 54, ISBN 978-3-258-07465-8 .

Web links

Commons : Neovison vison  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Markus Kappeler: European mink ; Retrieved August 20, 2012
  5. Water voles 'decline by a fifth'. BBC News, September 6, 2013, accessed September 28, 2013 .
  6. ^ Mink eradication plan to help north Kent water voles. BBC Kent, February 4, 2011, accessed September 28, 2013 .
  7. Kent mink eradication will help water vole return. BBC, November 29, 2012, accessed September 28, 2013 .
  8. Animal Parasitology February 5, 2001. Kansas State University , accessed May 25, 2014
  9. L. David Mech, Shawn P. Tracy: Prevalence of Giant Kidney Worm (Dioctophyma renale) in Wild Mink (Mustela vison) in Minnesota . In: The American Midland Naturalist 145 (2001): pp. 206-209.