Index of Species Information

WILDLIFE SPECIES:  Mustela vison


AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Sullivan, Janet. Mustela vison. 1996. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Revisions: 18 July 2013: DeGraaf, Richard M.; Rudis, Deborah D. 2001 citation corrected to DeGraaf, Richard M.; Yamasaki, Mariko. 2001. ABBREVIATION : MUVI COMMON NAMES : American mink mink North American mink TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name of American mink is Mustela vison Schreber. It belongs to the weasel family (Mustelidae) [17]. There are 15 currently accepted American mink subspecies [17,23]. ORDER : Carnivora CLASS : Mammal FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : None [34] OTHER STATUS : Information on state- and province-level protection status of animals in the United States and Canada is available at NatureServe, although recent changes in status may not be included.


ECOSYSTEMS : FRES10 White-red-jack pine FRES11 Spruce-fir FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine FRES14 Oak-pine FRES15 Oak-hickory FRES16 Oak-gum-cypress FRES17 Elm-ash-cottonwood FRES18 Maple-beech-birch FRES19 Aspen-birch FRES20 Douglas-fir FRES21 Ponderosa pine FRES22 Western white pine FRES23 Fir-spruce FRES24 Hemlock-Sitka spruce FRES25 Larch FRES26 Lodgepole pine FRES27 Redwood FRES28 Western hardwoods FRES37 Mountain meadows FRES38 Plains grasslands FRES39 Prairie FRES41 Wet grasslands FRES44 Alpine STATES :
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : American mink range across Canada, excepting the high Arctic, west through Alaska and south throughout the United States except for the southwestern deserts [10]. BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 1 Northern Pacific Border 2 Cascade Mountains 3 Southern Pacific Border 4 Sierra Mountains 5 Columbia Plateau 6 Upper Basin and Range 8 Northern Rocky Mountains 9 Middle Rocky Mountains 10 Wyoming Basin 11 Southern Rocky Mountains 13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont 14 Great Plains 15 Black Hills Uplift 16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : American mink occur in most Kuchler plant associations, except those in the southwestern deserts. SAF COVER TYPES : American mink occur in most SAF cover types, except those in the southwestern deserts. SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : 203 Riparian woodland 217 Wetlands 409 Tall forb 411 Aspen woodland 421 Chokecherry-serviceberry-rose 422 Riparian 805 Riparian 806 Gulf Coast salt marsh 807 Gulf Coast fresh marsh 809 Mixed hardwood and pine 811 South Florida flatwoods 812 North Florida flatwoods 813 Cutthroat seeps 814 Cabbage palm flatwoods 815 Upland hardwood hammocks 816 Cabbage palm hammocks 817 Oak hammocks 818 Florida salt marsh 820 Everglades flatwoods 821 Pitcher plant bogs 822 Slough PLANT COMMUNITIES : American mink occur in a wide variety of plant communities. They are associated with water rather than with particular habitat types. American mink are more often associated with coniferous and mixed forests than deciduous forests. They are also found in grassland environments if open water or marshland is present [1].


TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Diurnal Activity: American mink are chiefly nocturnal but also somewhat crepuscular [1]. In Manitoba radio-collared American 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, American mink mate in the late wet season (autumn). Hydroperiod determines prey abundance and availability in southern Florida, which appear to determine breeding season. Female American 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. American mink have been reported to remain fecund for 7 or more years [23]. PREFERRED HABITAT : The critical habitat feature for American mink is water. American mink prefer streambanks, lakeshores, and marshes [10]. Habitats associated with small streams are preferred to habitats near large, broad rivers [1]. American mink favor forested wetlands with abundant cover such as shrub thickets, fallen trees, and rocks [10]. In aspen (Populus spp.) parklands, male American 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]. American mink are common where abundant downfall and debris creates cover for foraging. Logjams in streams create crayfish and fish habitat and shelter for American mink [1]. Peak American 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 American mink activity takes place less than 3 miles (4.8 km) from water [6]. In Michigan all American 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 American 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 American mink habitat than those with straight, open, or exposed shorelines [1]. Marshall [25] reported that 50 percent of American 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 American mink densities occurred in low swampy terrain and in extensively interconnected waterways with abundant fish [8]. More American mink are trapped in wooded swamps than in marshes. The reported abundance of American 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; American mink avoid open areas and prefer shrubby, dense thickets. Tall grass does not usually provide adequate cover for American mink; however, sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) marshes in Louisiana support high American mink densities [1]. American mink are adaptable in their use of habitat, particularly where prey are readily available. They are tolerant of human activity. American 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: American mink home ranges tend to approximate the shape of the body of water the American mink uses most [1]. However, in the prairie pothole region, American 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. American 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 American 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 American 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 American 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 American mink per kilometer of shoreline [18]. Gerell [15] reported that adult male American 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, American 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 American mink tended to have larger home ranges than other American 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 American 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 : American mink are almost exclusively carnivorous. They are excellent swimmers and pursue both aquatic and terrestrial prey. American 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 American mink as a common predator of Townsend's chipmunks (Tamias townsendii) in the Pacific Northwest. Allen [1] listed American 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 American mink diets [27]. Birds are important prey where fish and crayfish are scarce. In Louisiana crayfish are so prominent in American mink diets that their abundance largely determines American mink population size [1]. In Alaska coastal populations of American 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 American 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 American 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 American mink. American 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 American mink diets in riparian areas in Idaho and comprised over 20 percent of American mink fall/winter diets in North Carolina [1]. In Quebec crayfish were the most important dietary item in summer [6]. In winter American mink hunting over ice can easily penetrate active common muskrat lodges, but cannot get into common muskrat burrows so easily [28]. PREDATORS : American 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 American 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 American 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 American mink activity [1]. In Ontario residential development around lakes resulted in decreased American 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 American 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 American mink activity was made among a newly channelized segment, an old (55 years) channelized segment, and an unchannelized segment of a river. American 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 American 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 American mink producing areas [1]. In southeastern Alaska mink is the most abundantly harvested furbearer [26]. Linscombe and others [23] discuss parasites and diseases of American mink.


DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS : There are no reports of direct mortality of American mink due to fire. Because American mink are highly mobile, semi-aquatic animals and often den underground, it seems unlikely that fire-caused mortality is ever substantial. HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS : There are no reports in the literature linking fire-caused habitat changes to American mink. Fire along streambanks that reduces cover and downed logs would have a negative impact on American mink activity. Reduction of fish and crayfish due to changes in stream conditions would adversely affect American mink. Conversely, fire that resulted in increased snag numbers and stream channel downfalls, shrub density, and herbaceous vegetation cover would probably encourage American mink activity. FIRE USE : NO-ENTRY FIRE REGIMES : Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes".

References for species: Mustela vison

1. Allen, Arthur W. 1986. Habitat suitability index models: mink. Biol. Rep. 82 (10.127). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 23 p. [11713]
2. Arnold, Todd W.; Fritzell, Erik K. 1987. Activity patterns, movements, and home ranges of prairie mink. Prairie Naturalist. 19(1): 25-32. [25980]
3. Arnold, Todd W.; Fritzell, Erik K. 1990. Habitat use by male mink in relation to wetland characteristics and avian prey abundances. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 68(10): 2205-2208. [25985]
4. Banfield, A. W. F. 1974. The mammals of Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 438 p. [25152]
5. Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p. [434]
6. Burgess, S. A. 1978. Aspects of mink ecology in the southern Laurentians of Quebec. Montreal, PQ: McGill University. 87 p. Thesis. [27377]
7. Burgess, Stephen A.; Bider, J. R. 1980. Effects of stream habitat improvements on invertebrates, trout populations, and mink activity. Journal of Wildlife Management. 44(4): 871-880. [25982]
8. Burns, John James. 1964. The ecology, economics and management of mink in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska. 114 p. Thesis. [26085]
9. Carey, Andrew B. 1991. The biology of aboreal rodents in Douglas-fir forests. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-276. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station. 46 p. [18163]
10. DeGraaf, Richard M.; Yamasaki, Mariko. 1986. New England wildlife: habitat, natural history, and distribution. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-108. Broomall, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 491 p. [21386]
11. Diiro, Bruce Warren. 1982. Effects of burning and mowing on seasonal whitetop ponds in southern Manitoba. Ames, IA: Iowa State University. 48 p. Thesis. [23497]
12. Eberhardt, Lester E.; Sargeant, Alan B. 1977. Mink predation on prairie marshes during the waterfowl breeding season. In: Proceedings of the predator symposium; 1975; Missoula, MT. Missoula, MT: University of Montana, School of Forestry, Montana Forest and Conservation Experiment Station: 33-43. [26032]
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15. Gerell, Rune. 1967. Food selection in relation to habitat in mink (Mustela vison Schreber) in Sweden. Oikos. 18: 233-246. [26031]
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17. Hall, E. Raymond. 1981. The mammals of North America. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. New York: John Wiley and Sons. 1271 p. [14765]
18. Hatler, David Francis. 1976. The coastal mink on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia. 376. Dissertation. [27113]
19. Humphrey, Stephen R.; Zinn, Terry L. 1982. Seasonal habitat use by river otters and Everglades mink in Florida. Journal of Wildlife Management. 46(2): 375-381. [25986]
20. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 77 p. [1384]
21. Layne, James N. 1974. Ecology of small mammals in a flatwoods habitat in north-central Florida, with emphasis on the cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus). American Museum Novitates: No. 2544. New York: The American Museum of Natural History. 48 p. [25679]
22. Linn, I. J.; Birks, J. D. S. 1981. Observations on the home ranges of feral American mink (Mustela vison) in Devon, England, as revealed by radio-tracking. In: Chapman, Joseph A.; Pursley, Duane, eds. Worldwide furbearer conference: Proceedings; 1980 August 3-11; Frostburg, MD. Volume II. [Place of publication unknow]: [Publisher unknown]: 1088-1102. [25994]
23. Linscombe, Greg; Kinler, Noel; Aulerich, R. J. 1982. Mink: Mustela vison. In: Chapman, Joseph A.; Feldhamer, George A., eds. Wild mammals of North America: Biology, management, and economics. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press: 629-643. [25234]
24. Lokemoen, John T.; Woodward, Robert O. 1993. An assessment of predator barriers and predator control to enhance duck nest success on peninsulas. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 21(3): 275-282. [25983]
25. Marshall, William H. 1936. A study of the winter activities of the mink. Journal of Mammalogy. 17(4): 382-392. [26030]
26. Meehan, William R. 1974. The forest ecosystem of southeast Alaska: 4. Wildlife habitats. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-16. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station. 32 p. [13479]
27. Melquist, Wayne E.; Whitman, Jackson S.; Hornocker, Maurice G. 1981. Resource partitioning and coexistence of sympatric mink and river otter populations. In: Chapman, Joseph A.; Pursley, Duane, eds. Worldwide furbearer conference: Proceedings; 1980 August 3-11; Frostburg, MD. Volume I. [Place of publication unknow]: [Publisher unknown]: 187-220. [25995]
28. Messier, Francois; Virgl, John A. 1992. Differential use of bank burrows and lodges by muskrats, Ondatra zibethicus, in a northern marsh environment. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 70(6): 1180-1184. [18437]
29. Shafroth, Patrick B.; Auble, Gregor T.; Scott, Michael L. 1995. Germination and establishment of the native plains cottonwood (Populus deltoides ssp. monilifera) and the exotic Russian-olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia L.). Conservation Biology. 9(5): 1169-1175. [26012]
30. Racey, G. D.; Euler, D. L. 1983. Changes in mink habitat and food selection as influenced by cottage development in central Ontario. Journal of Applied Ecology. 20(2): 387-402. [25984]
31. Schladweiler, J. S.; Storm, G. L. 1969. Den-use by mink. Journal of Wildlife Management. 33(4): 1025-1026. [27112]
32. Shiflet, Thomas N., ed. 1994. Rangeland cover types of the United States. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management. 152 p. [23362]
33. Smith, Andrew T.; Cary, Daniel M. 1982. Distribution of Everglades mink. Florida Scientist. 45(2): 106-112. [25981]
34. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 2013. Endangered Species Program, [Online]. Available: [86564]