Medium-sized Weasel

Driving in this morning, I saw a dark brown animal permanently napping in the road.  “MINK!”  I turned around and collected it, bringing it in to work to hopefully add to our collection (it is currently in the freezer).

In the meantime, for those who have never seen a mink up close, here are photos of this medium-sized member of the weasel family.

First up, we have an overall view of the animal.  Note the lovely dark, chocolate brown fur – “rich” is really the best word to describe the color.

The chin of a mink is always white.  I usually hate to use words like “always” and “never” because you know that someone will point out the exception, but as far as I know, all minks have white chins.  This is one of the diagnostic things to look for to ID this mammal.

There are five toes on the front feet – note the slight bit of webbing in between.

And there are five toes on each of the back feet – and also webbing.  Otters have fully webbed feet because they are really aquatic, but minks are only partially aquatic, so their feet are only partially webbed.

Like most weasels (all weasels?) minks have small ears.  The further north one travels in the world, the smaller ears become on animals – this is a heat/energy-saving trait, and it also helps prevent things like frostbite.

The teeth of the mink are typical of those of any predator:  pointy.  Minks are carnivores that actively hunt both aquatic and terrestrial prey.  Major players in the mink’s diet are crayfish, frogs, fish and small mammals, but it will also eat snakes, eggs, birds and insects.

For those who like to know factoids, here are a few to file away for cocktail conversation:

  1. A mink can travel on land at speeds of up to eight miles per hour.
  2. While not normally arboreal, minks can climb trees.
  3. A mink can swim for about 50 feet underwater before having to come back up for air.
  4. Minks dig burrows or use burrows dug by other animals, such as muskrats.
  5. Minks live near water.
  6. A mink den/burrow has several entrances/exits.
  7. Minks depend on their strong sense of smell to locate prey.

Members of the weasel family (Mustelidae) have scent glands that are used in all sorts of communications.  The mink I found this morning was gently aromatic – having no doubt a) released a squirt of chemicals just before the car hit it (a fear reaction) and then b) the glands releasing additional liquid as the body relaxed upon death.  Although not as strong as the scent of a skunk, the aroma is very similar.  No doubt this is why skunks were classified weasels until fairly recently.  Today, skunks are classified in their own family (Mephitidae).

So, yes, Virginia, there are minks here in southern Michigan.  Look for long, dark animals near water.  Streams are great places to watch for minks.  When it doubt, check stream banks for mink tracks – in snow or mud.  Five toes front and back, and the feet often leaving a 2-by-2 pattern, like a series of colons:    :   :   :   :   :


About Dahlem Center

The Dahlem Center is a non-profit nature center/environmental education center located on almost 300 acres just south of the city of Jackson, Michigan. The Center is one arm of the Dahlem Conservancy, which includes land conservancy and stewardship in its mission.
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6 Responses to Medium-sized Weasel

  1. Dan says:

    I trust that the collector had the appropriate fur harvesters license.

  2. Andrew Wilson says:

    You have to have a license to clean up roadkill?

  3. amanda says:

    that’s interesting!

  4. Cindy Patton says:

    If you’re still around, I think I spotted a mink here. I didn’t collect it but I took some pics of it. It was hit by a car. If I send them, can you identify it?

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