This post is in honour of my dad. Happy Father’s Day!
Amelia: What a phenomenal day for a bike ride around Dow’s Lake. The tulips are in bloom, the water is shining, there’s a furry snake on the rocks…wait, why is there a furry snake on the rocks?
American Mink: How rude! I’m an American Mink, I’ll have you know.
A: Right, I knew that. There are so many weasel-type animals in Canada I can never tell them apart!
M: Frankly, I’m insulted. I’m the most phenomenal mammal there is. I’m basically a super hero. How can you not know who I am?
A: In my defense, I’ve lived in Canada my whole life, and I’ve never seen an American Mink before. Are you endangered or something?
M: Hardly! Our populations are very healthy, thank you. Wherever there is a river, lake or pond, there is likely a mink nearby. There are even subspecies that live along the ocean!
A: If you’re so common, why haven’t I seen you before?
M: Because you only come outside in the daytime. We’re mostly active at night and at dawn and dusk.
A: If that’s the case, why am I seeing you now in the middle of the day?
M: Because I am an opportunistic predator, and there are seagulls nearby.
A: Really, you’re taking on a seagull? You’re only about a foot long, and much of that is fuzzy tail.
M: You forget, I’m a super hero. Watch and learn.
(Dramatic fight scene ensues. The American Mink returns to shore with the dead seagull in her mouth)
M: What did I tell you? But did you believe me? Noooo.
A: You were vicious! The way you wrapped your body around the gull, bit its neck, and then dove underwater to drown it? Incredible.
M: What can I say? There is a reason I have few natural predators. Nobody wants to mess with us!
A: Are you going to eat that whole gull now?
M: Nah, I’ll have a quick snack, but the rest is going in my burrow for later. I often kill more than I can eat in one sitting, and then cache the rest. I’m a killing machine!
A: Yes, I can believe that now. Besides seagulls, what else do you eat?
M: I prefer muskrat and rabbit, but I’ll eat just about anything I can get my paws onto. That includes mice, squirrels, frogs, fish, ducks, small turtles, worms, eggs and baby birds.
A: That’s certainly a lot of variety. What makes you such a great predator?
M: I have extremely good eyesight and sense of smell. My hearing is very sharp, so I can hear ultrasonic noises made by my prey. My aquatic lifestyle is assisted by my webbed toes, which let me dive over 18 feet underwater, and swim nearly 90 feet without coming up for air.
M: And if that weren’t enough, I can also climb trees and jump from branch to branch like a murderous squirrel! Even the air isn’t safe from me!
A: Okay, I’m beginning to understand the superhero thing now. You’re basically an unstoppable killing machine.
M: Pretty much. I’m also darn cute.
A: You got that right. Are you done with that seagull for now? Do you want to stash it in your burrow? Is it nearby?
M: Yes, it’s an old muskrat hole dug out of the riverbank a few metres from here. But I can’t let you see it because I have babies in there and then I would have to kill you.
M: Just kidding. I’m not that powerful.
A: Whew. How many babies do you have this year?
M: I have four. They are still in the naked and helpless stage at this point. But in a few weeks I’ll take them out of the den for the first time and start teaching them how to hunt and swim.
A: Very cool. Does your mate help take care of them?
M: Ha, that’s hilarious. Nope, the males are very uninvolved. We are solitary creatures with large territories that only really come together to mate. And considering how aggressive the males are when they see another mink, it’s probably best to keep them far away from the babies.
A: Fair enough. But it can’t be easy raising the babies on your own.
M: I do have a secret- it’s called “delayed implantation.”
A: Delayed what now?
M: Delayed implantation. Basically, it means I can choose when I have babies. Mating happens between February and April, but I can hold the embryo in suspended animation until the weather is nice enough and there is lots of prey around.
A: I can see how that would help. Are American Mink the only animals that can do that?
M: I’d like to say yes, but I’d be lying. Badgers, bears, shrews and skunks can do it too.
A: Okay, but it sounds like you’re still part of an exclusive club. How long do the babies stay with you?
M: We’ll stay together until the fall. Then they’ll go out on their own to find their own territories.
A: Sounds good. Do you still stay by the water in the winter?
M: Generally, yes. But with the water frozen, I move my hunting inland to focus more on rabbits, squirrels and mice.
A: Speaking of winter, I hear your fur was extremely popular for winter coats and accessories.
M: Yep, you humans couldn’t resist our soft, waterproof coats. In the 1900s someone had the great idea of farming us instead of catching us in the wild. This was a very popular idea, and American Mink were farmed all over Europe, Russia and the U.K., even in Japan and Chile. But you know us, we’re super heroes…
A: And let me guess- some of you escaped into the wild.
M: That’s right! So obviously the fur trade and fur farms were absolutely awful for our species, but they had the unintended consequence of spreading us all over the world! We have humans to thank for American Mink world domination.
A: And knowing you, you probably did a number on the local bird and mammal species.
M: Correct! Our introduced populations are so large in Europe and South America, that it’s now impossible to get rid of us except for on tiny islands.
A: Charming. Well, I have to get going. Will I see you again next time I’m in the area?
M: Not if I can help it.