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Photo Credit: Conservancy of Southwest Florida

MEET THE MINK

 

Covered in fur the color of rich chocolate, you have to love this little mink.

 

Rarely seen, she is one of the most secretive creatures of the Florida Everglades,

 

known to biologists as 

 
Neovison Vison Evergladensis 

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Credit: NPS

 

Mink caught my attention when I was researching information on the Florida panther, and I have found many parallels in the lives of these two animals: they are mammals, carnivores, main predators in their chosen realms, their lives linked to the rise & decline of their prey. They have suffered great losses as a result of human settlement, via hunting and destruction of their habitat. Both are sometimes aggressive toward their own kind, strong and can take down animals much larger than themselves. The Florida panther and the Everglades mink are both regarded as distinct subspecies. Panthers & mink are doing well in other parts of the country, and both have very active and functioning rolls in their habitat. Though they remain at risk in Florida due to many factors, these include their isolation from other populations, human expansion, and other activities we conduct which impact the environment. 

 

Not much is known about the Everglades mink, and though biologists have suggested it be listed as threatened, the fact is it may actually be endangered. For all we know this little creature may be slipping away under our very noses. There is no accurate estimate of how many we have living here in the wetlands, and little has been done to study these animals to find out how they currently utilize this environment, what kind of interaction mink have with the other animals living in the swamps & mangroves, or how they may differ from their northern kin. We could lose this mysterious beauty, and I wonder who would miss them, because many people in Florida don’t even know they exist.

 

   So let me introduce you to the mink, and shed a little bit of light on this hidden treasure.

 

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Cousin to the otter and the weasel, the mink is an animal highly prized for its fur. Even though I am told our little vison still has a beautiful plush coat, I doubt its fur matches the denseness of mink living in colder regions. American mink are normally a very rich brown, the color of cloves or dark chocolate; some of them have a white patch on the chin or chest. Occasionally a minks coat can be a grayish blue, and in captivity several color mutations are exploited to produce fur coats for fashion. Wild mink are still trapped in parts of the United States, they are also farm raised, not only for their pelts but for the oil secreted by their scent glands; this musky oil is used in cosmetics, furniture polish, & for proofing leather. However, the Everglades mink are a protected species. 

 

We have 3 known populations of mink in Florida - two of these make their home in the northern salt marshes, one on the Atlantic coast the other on the Gulf coast. The third is the Everglades mink, a subspecies that use to range as far as Lake Okeechobee, it now survives in the swamps of south west Florida. Recent observations have occurred in the Fakahatchee strand.

 

 

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The mink is a small semi aquatic mammal, of slender build, it is powerful for its size and well equipped for its waterside lifestyle. It has partially webbed feet, an insolated wooly undercoat, with a top coat of longer hairs designed to shed water. It is energetic, quick moving and has an excellent sense of smell. Mink have long tails that account for a third of its entire body length, they can average 1 - 2 ft depending on their gender, and can weigh as little as 1.25lbs, or as much as 4.5lbs.
 

Credit: Trailblazer blog.
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They are fast swimmers, putting their webbed feet & tail to good use diving deep below the water to catch fish, and they can haul prey much bigger than themselves. Intelligent predators, they are territorial and noted to be quiet fierce when cornered or trapped. Like panthers, mink are prone to intraspecific aggression, which means they will battle each other over land use. A lady minks home range can be ½ a mile -1 ¾, whereas a male lords over 1-3 miles. Male territories may overlap with several females with whom they will mate, but sometimes both males & females will have multiple partners. After mating female mink resume their private lives, and like panther moms they raise the kits on their own.  

 

 

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The mink mating act can have the pair locked together for up to 2 hrs, making this a very vulnerable time in their lives, a perfect opportunity for a predator to make a meal of a mink. Their gestation period is about 51 days, but a female’s body can delay egg implantation for up to 12 months if environmental conditions are not suitable. On average she will have one litter a year and rear 2-4 kits, but they can have up to six. Kits are normally weaned within 6weeks, if the young mink are lucky enough to survive and become adults, they may live 3-5yrs in the wild.

 

 

Mink can survive on drier land if there is enough prey, but generally their lives are linked to the water. Utilizing habitat, and shifts in their home range is often dictated by the hydro period of that region. Water flow, its rise & fall, the quality of the water, and animals within it, can play a huge roll in the health of a mink population. Northern populations of mink breed in spring, but a study on mink in South Florida in the 80’s indicated reproduction happens during the autumn months, so that birthing ties in with the receding wet season, finding an abundance of prey concentrated in the ponds as the water dries up in the glades.

 

 

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As apposed to digging their own hidey holes, mink often prefer to live in the burrows that other animals have made, they may also slip in between rocks, or curl up in the hollows at the base of trees to rest, safely hidden under the pine needles. Minks are carnivores, and in good times there are many choices on the menu - lizards, fish, frogs, eggs, birds, snakes, crayfish, & rodents. Mink are particularly partial to muskrats. A scat sample of an Everglades mink revealed it had been dining on a small turtle.
   

Mink are subject to a slew of dangers: predation by other animals such as owls, bobcats, gators, and no doubt big snakes. They are prone to infections, parasites and diseases. The distemper virus was actually the cause of a dramatic decline in mink here in Florida, which the population appeared to recover from according to a FWC report. Mink have a high metabolism making them vulnerable to toxins – they can be adversely affected by pollutants such as mercury and chemical run off into waterways.

 

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Some human induced threats that might be particularly bad for mink include: changes to natural water flow, loss of habitat, pollutants, exotic and invasive plants & animals.

A perfect example are the Pythons presently known to be wreaking havoc in the Everglades, these snakes are a huge concern and pose a very real danger to the mink in this region.

 

 

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So why is their lack of evidence that populations remain active throughout Southern Florida? According to biologists they are very difficult to study, like the panther they are secretive, these little mink now live deep within the hot steamy bug infested swamps, off the beaten track & far from roadside access. Looks like the mink have retreated from the rising tide of humanity, so manning observation missions, trapping, & sample taking, proves to be a very difficult task. Minks metabolism make them sensitive to stress, therefore any handling must be done with extreme caution. Budget restrictions also prevent them finding out some of the things we would like to learn about the mink that still remain here. I believe another factor is that the mink is an “indicator species”, she is a sentinel of the glades and her absence from it could simply reflect the declining health of our wetlands. I suspect that we under appreciate the value and roll of the mink in Florida’s waterways.

 

 

Owing to its threatened status, the mink living in our southern swamps are most certainly a species that would benefit from habitat protection & improved water management. The Everglades mink would be a noble representative for the Everglades restoration project.

 

 

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 Southern Florida distribution of the everglades mink.

 

The dark region covers roughly the Fakahatchee strand, where mink have been observed today.

 

The brown region is considered minks possible range. We may have mink living in some of these areas

 

The peach extension includes the EV-minks historic range. 

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Meet Una 
 a young mink treated at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s wildlife clinic. Biologists were given a rare opportunity to place a small transmitter under the fur which allowed them to track her for several months, offering them a brief glimpse into her world. For research purposes she was designated as female Mink #1.
 

MINK LINKS
 
Visit the Conservancy of Southwest Florida mink page
 
Biologists are seeking help from the public to report any mink sightings they may have by going to
 
"Conserve Wildlife" plate or Tshirt, funds help habitat & research projects for wildlife including mink. 

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