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WILDLIFE SPECIES: Mustela vison | Mink
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Diurnal Activity: Mink are chiefly nocturnal but also somewhat crepuscular [1]. In Manitoba radio-collared mink were most active at night, with intermediate levels of activity at dawn and dusk. They were more active, with more extensive movements, in April than in May, June, or July [2]. Breeding season: In most areas the mating period occurs from late February to early April, peaking in March [1,23]. In southern Florida, however, mink mate in the late wet season (autumn). Hydroperiod determines prey abundance and availability in southern Florida, which appear to determine breeding season. Female mink were found to be lactating in March and April, slightly earlier than populations farther north [19]. Gestation and Development of Young: Gestation ranges from 40 to 75 days, depending on pre-implantation period. Young are born 28 to 30 days after implantation, in April or May [1,10,23]. Neonates are altricial and have sparse, light-colored hairs. The first teeth emerge at 2 to 3 weeks, eyes open at about 3 weeks, and solid food is first taken at about the same time. By 35 days the young are fully homeothermic. By 7 weeks they have achieved 40 percent of their adult body weight and 60 percent of adult body length. Litters disperse in early fall [23]. Females attain adult weight at 4 months; males do not attained adult weight until 9 to 11 months [4]. Productivity: A typical litter consists of 3 or 4 kits and ranges from 2 to 10. The average age at sexual maturity is 12 months for females, 18 months for males [4]. Neonates have higher survival rates in warm than in cold weather. Mink have been reported to remain fecund for 7 or more years [23]. PREFERRED HABITAT : The critical habitat feature for mink is water. Mink prefer streambanks, lakeshores, and marshes [10]. Habitats associated with small streams are preferred to habitats near large, broad rivers [1]. Mink favor forested wetlands with abundant cover such as shrub thickets, fallen trees, and rocks [10]. In aspen (Populus spp.) parklands, male mink selected large, semipermanent and permanent wetlands with open areas near shores, high water levels and irregular shorelines; these characteristics are also associated with abundant avian prey [3]. Mink are common where abundant downfall and debris creates cover for foraging. Logjams in streams create crayfish and fish habitat and shelter for mink [1]. Peak mink production in baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) swamps occurred following extensive logging in the early part of the twentieth century. Numbers have declined since then, probably due to changed hydroperiod and decreased logging debris [23]. In Quebec the majority of mink activity takes place less than 3 miles (4.8 km) from water [6]. In Michigan all mink were observed within 100 feet (30.4 m) of the water's edge [25]. In Minnesota all den sites were within 231 feet (69.9 m) of open water [31]. In Idaho den sites were 16.5 to 330 feet (5-100 m) from water, and mink were never observed more than 660 feet (200 m) from water [27]. In southeastern Alaska mink spend the summers along streams and in upland muskegs; they spend the winter in a narrow ocean beach zone [26]. Wetlands with irregular, diverse shorelines are better mink habitat than those with straight, open, or exposed shorelines [1]. Marshall [25] reported that 50 percent of mink tracks in Michigan occurred in various stages of hydrophytic succession, 37 percent in bushy and timbered areas, and 13 percent in sedge (Carex spp.) and common cattail (Typhus latifolia) type. In Alaska the highest mink densities occurred in low swampy terrain and in extensively interconnected waterways with abundant fish [8]. More mink are trapped in wooded swamps than in marshes. The reported abundance of mink in baldcypress-tupelo (Nyssa spp.) swamps is at least partially attributable to the abundance of food [1]. In upland habitats, ecotones are most used; mink avoid open areas and prefer shrubby, dense thickets. Tall grass does not usually provide adequate cover for mink; however, sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) marshes in Louisiana support high mink densities [1]. Mink are adaptable in their use of habitat, particularly where prey are readily available. They are tolerant of human activity. Mink inhabit suboptimal habitats if prey is available, but are more mobile and change home ranges more frequently in suboptimal than in optimal habitats [1]. Home Range: Mink home ranges tend to approximate the shape of the body of water the mink uses most [1]. However, in the prairie pothole region, mink tend to use an area rather than a linear shoreline [2]. The use of the home range varies in intensity with respect to varying prey availability. Mink tend to use a core area near a den site, usually within 990 feet (300 m) of the shoreline. They move to another den and core area several times a season; core areas tend to be places of relatively high prey abundance. Usually only a small percentage of the average or overall home range is used as the core area. In winter fewer den sites are used, occupancy is of longer duration, and daily travel distances are shorter than in summer [1]. Male mink have larger average home ranges than females [1,23]. Females tend to use a greater proportion of their home range as a core area then males do [23]. Mitchell [29] reported the average home range for male mink in Montana was 2 to 3 miles (3.2-4.8 km) in diameter. Vegetative cover has a substantial impact on home range size in Montana: female home ranges in heavily vegetated areas averaged 19 acres (7.7 ha), whereas in sparse, heavily grazed areas they averaged 50 acres (20.1 ha) [29]. In Michigan male mink average home range was less than 20 acres (8 ha) [25]. In Idaho males used 0.6 to 1.25 miles (1-2 km) of shoreline [27]. In British Columbia mink density on Vancouver Island ranged from 1.5 to more than 3 mink per kilometer of shoreline [18]. Gerell [15] reported that adult male mink used an average of 8,679 feet (2630 m) of shoreline, ranging from 5,940 to 16,500 feet (1800-5000 m). Female adults used 3,300 to 9,240 feet (1000-2800 m), and juvenile males used 3,465 to 4,620 feet (1050-1400 m). In North Dakota prairie pothole regions, mink home ranges were not linear. Average home ranges were 1 to 1.5 square miles (2.59-3.8 sq km) and typically included many individual wetlands [1]. In Manitoba prairie pothole areas, male home ranges had maximum lengths of 3.1 miles (5.1 km) and maximum widths of 1.9 miles (3.1 km); prairie mink tended to have larger home ranges than other mink populations [2]. Home ranges of individuals rarely overlap, with the exception of the breeding season when male home ranges overlap those of females [1]. COVER REQUIREMENTS : Den sites are usually in thick cover and include hollow logs, natural cavities under tree roots, or burrows along stream, marsh, and lake edges [10]. Old beaver (Castor canadensis) lodges are occasionally used as den sites [23]. In Idaho 53 percent of dens were in logjams [27]. In North Dakota marshlands, all dens were situated on shorelines and appeared to be in abandoned muskrat burrows. Active dens were not located where shorelines were heavily grazed. The absence of dry den sites limits the use of some wetland habitats that are otherwise suitable [1]. In Ontario dens were frequently found in areas with good horizontal cover (31.4% obscurity at 3.5 m), and proportionally more coniferous than deciduous shrubs. Dens were also in areas with higher-than-average shrub density, deadfalls, stumps, and individual trees [30]. In Michigan mink were most commonly associated with brushy or wooded cover adjacent to aquatic habitats [25]. In Quebec mink were normally most active in wooded areas immediately adjacent to a stream channel [6]. FOOD HABITS : Mink are almost exclusively carnivorous. They are excellent swimmers and pursue both aquatic and terrestrial prey. Mink diets vary with season, habitat, and availability of prey [1]. No single food item is consistently more important than others [23]. Commonly important items include common muskrats (Ondatra zibethecus), voles (Microtus spp.), cottontails (Sylvilagus spp.), fish (mostly Salmonidae), birds, frogs, salamanders, crayfish, clams, and insects [1,10,23]. Carey [9] listed mink as a common predator of Townsend's chipmunks (Tamias townsendii) in the Pacific Northwest. Allen [1] listed mink prey preference in the following order: 1) aquatic prey, including fish and crayfish, 2) semi-aquatic prey including waterfowl and water-associated mammals such as common muskrat, and 3) terrestrial prey including rabbits and rodents. In Idaho fish comprised 59 percent of mink diets [27]. Birds are important prey where fish and crayfish are scarce. In Louisiana crayfish are so prominent in mink diets that their abundance largely determines mink population size [1]. In Alaska coastal populations of mink tend to be higher than inland populations due to the ready availability of prey in tide pools [1]. Eberhardt and Sargeant [12] reported that mink diets in North Dakota prairie marshes were dominated by birds (78%); other prey included mammals (19%), amphibians (2%), and reptiles (1%). Of the avian prey, the majority were waterfowl including American coot (Fulica americana), ducks (Anatidae), and grebes (Podicipedidae) [12]. In southern Manitoba mink are important nest predators of waterfowl [11]. In North Dakota mink predation on ducklings typically occurs in semipermanent wetlands [1]. Seasonal Variation in Diet: Shallow water and low flow rates contribute to effective aquatic foraging by mink. Mink tend to eat more fish in winter when fish are more accessible. In autumn terrestrial mammals tend to increase in importance as prey. Terrestrial mammals comprised 43 percent of mink diets in riparian areas in Idaho and comprised over 20 percent of mink fall/winter diets in North Carolina [1]. In Quebec crayfish were the most important dietary item in summer [6]. In winter mink hunting over ice can easily penetrate active common muskrat lodges, but cannot get into common muskrat burrows so easily [28]. PREDATORS : Mink mortality due to predators other than humans is not substantial. Occasional predators include fisher (Martes pennanti), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), bobcat (Lynx rufus), lynx (L. lynx), gray wolf (Canis lupus), American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), and great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) [23]. MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : In Quebec Burgess [6] noted an increase in mink activity with habitat improvement consisting of the creation of pools at least 1 meter deep by placing logs and/or rocks into the stream channel which formed small dams. It was reported that 1) temperatures were similar in control and improved sections of stream, 2) aquatic insect production was somewhat higher in the improved section, and 3) trout and crayfish biomasses were higher in the improved section [7]. Development of shorelines that reduces structural diversity and removes snags and debris reduces mink activity. Removal of downfall and other debris from the water near shore, and reduction or elimination of aquatic vegetation reduces crayfish production and contributes to reduced mink activity [1]. In Ontario residential development around lakes resulted in decreased mink activity due to loss of trees, decreased density of shrubs, reduction of aquatic snags, and removal of submergent and floating vegetation. In areas undergoing development, 52 of 59 dens were on undeveloped sections of shoreline [30]. Stream channelization has a negative impact on mink activity since suitable prey abundance is reduced when shallow, detritus-rich sloughs associated with meandering streams are replaced with abrupt, monotypic interfaces between aquatic and terrestrial cover types. In Mississippi and Alabama comparison of mink activity was made among a newly channelized segment, an old (55 years) channelized segment, and an unchannelized segment of a river. Mink track counts were highest in the unchannelized segment, lower in the old channelized segment, and very sparse in the newly channelized areas. Abundance and density of herbaceous vegetation were highest on the unchannelized segment [16]. There are controlled mink trapping seasons in 47 states and all provinces. Hunting is also allowed in five states as well as in Nova Scotia [23]. Trapping rates fluctuate widely from year to year; price and harvest are not significantly correlated. The extent to which trapping affects populations is not known [23]. Fur harvest records, though not necessarily direct indications of population levels, show that Louisiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin produce the most wild pelts in the United States. Saskatchewan and Manitoba lead the numbers in Canada. These harvest records reflect the relative amount of wetlands in the leading mink producing areas [1]. In southeastern Alaska mink is the most abundantly harvested furbearer [26]. Linscombe and others [23] discuss parasites and diseases of mink. REFERENCES : NO-ENTRY

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