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Mink

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MINK, a circumpolar species of weasel (family Mustelida), valuable as a fur-bearer, known in North America as Putorius visor, and in the Old World as P. lutreola, although substantially the same animal. The mink is a true weasel, with 34 teeth and not a marten with 38; hut it is of larger size, being 24 to 27 inches long, one-fourth of which belongs to the tail, and has a stouter form and bushier tail, more like the martens. Males are much larger than females. The mink differs greatly from both weasels and martens, and in those points in which it is modified toward this mode of life, namely, the half-webbing of the toes, short ears and close-set, bristly, glistening pelage, it makes an approach toward the others. In color the mink ranges from dull yellowish brown to a rich blackish chocolate-brown. The ordinary color is a dark reddish-brown, grow ing blackish on the tail and marked by a white patch on the chin of variable extent. The pelage consists of a dense, soft, matted under fur, mixed with long, stiff, lustrous hairs on all parts of the body and tail. The gloss is great est on the upper parts; on the tail the bristly hairs predominate. Northern specimens have the finest and most glistening pelage; but the rough treatment given its coat by the animal in scrambling through holes and crevices in rocks, rotten logs and broken ice so rapidly damages its fur that only the pelts taken in early winter show the fur to perfection and yield full value to the trapper. Both sexes are extremely odorous, due to the secretion, equally in both sexes, of a fetid musky scent in small perineal sacs opening near the orifice of the rectum, on each side; the smell is powerful, penetrating and lasting, and is under volun tary control of the animal, but it cannot be dis charged like that of the skunk, and is by no means so overpowering. The purpose of this secretion is undoubtedly the attraction of the sexes, and it is used to advantage by trappers as a scent-bait for their traps.

Minks occur in all parts of North America., and are so prolific, so well supplied with food and so secretive that they survive numerously even in the more thickly settled parts of the country. They abound near the coast and in the neighborhood of the larger lakes, rivers and marshes, hut are to be found along almost every stream, even in the dryest portions of the interior. The minks cling to the water-courses, where they find plentiful food in the form of meadow-mice, frogs, mussels, fishes (espe cially eels) and insects. In New England, at

least, they feed largely on earthworms, getting them,in plenty even in midwinter; and when very hungry, or a good opportunity offers, do not hesitate to attack larger animals, as musk rats— which they are able to pursue through underwater ways into their houses,— rabbits partridges, ducks and poultry. They search the stream-banks for prey, diving and swimming long distances with ease, go about under loose ice and snow, climb rough-barked trees and penetrate crevices and hollows almost with the ease of a serpent, so that nothing is safe from their inquisitive ferocity, and in winter they wander widely.

Their own homes are made in burrows, usually but not always opening in the bank of a stream, and are more often accidental than carefully contrived. In some such retreat the female brings forth in early spring her litter of four or five young, which she guards with great care and courage from all enemies, in cluding the males of her own species. The kittens, and the older ones indeed, exhibit the same playfulness in and out of the water which characterizes otters.

No fur-bearing animal is so unsuspicious of traps and so easily caught as the minks; and they are the victims of boys and amateurs as well as of professional trappers in all parts of the country. The value of the pelts varies with their color, condition, size and the varying de mands of changing fashion, but good ones are always of sufficient worth to make them reward the trouble of taking. When captured young they are easily habituated to confinement in suitable pens, and are tamable to a certain de gree. They will breed in captivity, and sev eral temporarily, successful attempts have been made to rear them in large numbers for the sake of their pelts. They are fed upon fish, coarse meat, etc. The sexes are kept separate except during the month of March, and repro duction begins when the female is one year old. Tame minks make excellent ratters, doing the duty of ferrets.

Consult Audubon and Bachman, 'North American Quadrupeds) (Washington 1851) ; Cones, 'Fur-bearing Animals' (1877) ; Cram, 'Little Beasts of Field and Wood' (New York 1899) ; Stone and Cram, 'American Animals' (ib. 1902) ; Hollister, 'A Synopsis of American Minks' (Washington 1913) ; Seton, 'Life His tories of Northern Animals' (New York 1909).