Want some Mustelid with your Monday?
The European Mink (Mustela lutreola), despite its appearance, is actually not closely related to the American Mink, but is instead closer to the Mustelids on its own side of the Atlantic Ocean. These include the Siberian Weasel and the European Polecat. It is a semi-aquatic species, able to hold its breath for up to two minutes underwater. It has partially-webbed feet and a dense undercoat, both of which are adaptations that suit it to life along the edges of rivers and ponds.
European Minks are built like ferrets, with elongated bodies and short limbs. Their coats are usually brown in color, tending toward black or red in some individuals. Color is usually consistent throughout the mink’s body, but they will sometimes have white patches on their lips and chins. Adult males grow up to 16.9 inches (430 mm) in body length, while females are slightly shorter at 15.7 inches (400 mm). Adults of either sex weigh around 1.76 pounds (800 grams). They are most active at night.
The diet of European Minks consist mostly of what can be found living in or around ponds and rivers. Animals like fish, crustaceans, frogs, insects, water voles and birds are among some of its most common prey, and though European Minks are small, they can catch fish that weigh as much as they do. They will also cache food in times of plenty, and return to it when prey is more scarce. They dig permanent burrows for themselves but use temporary shelters during flooding.
Mating occurs every year during February and March, with males searching for females within or around their own territories before venturing further if none can be found. Males and females don’t act very friendly before the act of mating occurs - most of it is fairly aggressive. Gestation is anywhere from five to ten weeks, but the births are usually timed to occur in the spring, when there is plenty of food. Litters consist of two to seven young, who are completely helpless during the first 10 days of life, but they will start to eat solid food along with nursing after 25 days. They will leave their den and their mother after 18 weeks.
European Minks are considered to be Critically Endangered by the IUCN, because they have experienced a 50% decline over the last three generations, and that figure is expected to rise to 80% over the next three generations. There are several contributing factors to this decline, including minks being hunted for their fur, causing a shrinking gene pool. The introduction of the American Mink in the European Mink’s historical range has created competition for resources between the two species, and habitat degradation through the building of hydroelectric dams and water pollution has impacted what was already a weak population. European Minks have also produced hybrids by mating with European Polecats, which usually only occurs in the wild where areas where the population of European Minks is shrinking.
Source for all images used in this post.