33            Mink

                             PUTORIUS VISON.--LINN.
                                [Mustela vison]


                        PLATE XXXIII.  MALE AND FEMALE.

     P. fulvus, mente albo; auribus curtis; pedibus semi-palmatis; cauda
corporis dimidiam longa.  Mustela marte minor.

     Less than the pine marten; general colour, brown; chin white; ears short;
feet semi-palmate; tail, half the length of the body.


     THE MINK, Smith's Virginia, 1624. Quoted from Pinkerton's Voyages,
       vol. xiii., p.31.
     OTAY, Sagard Theodat, Hist.  du Can., p. 749, A.D. 1636.
     FOUTEREAU, La Hontan, Voy. 1., p. 81, A.D. 1703.
     MINK, Kalm's Travels, Pinkerton's Voy., vol.  xiii., p. 522.
     LE VISON, Buffon, xiii., p. 308, t. 43.
     MUSTELA VISON, Linn., Gmel., i., p. 94.
     MINX, Lawson's Carolina, p. 121.
     MUSTELA LUTREOLA, Forster, Phil.  Trans., lxii., p. 371.
     MINX OTTER, Pennant, Arct.  Zool., i., p. 87.
     VISON WEASEL, Ibid., i., p. 78.
     JACKASH, Hearne's Journey, p. 376.
     MUSTELA VISON, Cuv., Regne Anim., vol. i., p. 150, t. 1. fig. 2.
     MUSTELA LUTREOLA, Sabine, Frank Journ., p. 652.
     MUSTELA VISON, and M. LUTREOCEPHALA, Harlan, Fauna, p. 63, 65.
     MINK, Godman, Nat.  Hist., vol. i., p. 206.
     PUTORIUS VISON, Dekay, Nat.  Hist.  New-York, p. 37, fig. 3, a. b. skull.


     Body, long and slender; head, small and depressed; nose, short, flat, and
thick; eyes, small, and placed far forward; whiskers, few, and reaching to the
ears; ears broad, short, rounded, and covered with hair; neck, very long; legs,
short and stout.  The toes are connected by short hairy webs, and may be
described as semi-palmated.  There are short hairs on the webs above and below.
Claws, very slightly arched, and acute.  On the fore-feet, the third and fourth
toes, counting from the inner side, are about of equal length; the second a line
shorter, the fifth a little less, and the first, shortest.  On the hind-feet,
the third and fourth toes are equal, the second and fifth shorter and nearly
equal, and the first very short.  There are callosities on the toes resembling
in miniature those on the toes of the Bay lynx.  The feet and palms are covered
with hair even to the extremity of the nails; tail, round, and thick at the
roots, tapering gradually to the end; the longer hairs of the tail are inclined
to stand out horizontally, giving it a bushy appearance.  There are two
brown-coloured glands situated on each side of the under surface of the tail,
which have a small cavity lined by a thin white wrinkled membrane; they contain
a strong musky fluid, the smell of which is rather disagreeable.  Mammae, six,
     The coat is composed of two kinds of hair; a very downy fur beneath, with
hairs of a longer and stronger kind interspersed.  The hairs on the upper
surface are longer than those on the lower.  They are smooth and glossy both on
the body and the tail, and to a considerable extent conceal the downy fur


     Under fur, light brownish-yellow; the longer hairs, and the surface of the
fur, are of a uniform brown or tawny colour, except the ears, which are a little
lighter, and the sides of the face, under surface, tail, and posterior part of
the back, which are a little darker than the general tint, lower jaw white.  In
most specimens there is a white spot under the throat, and in all that we have
seen, a longitudinal white stripe on the breast between the fore-legs, much
wider in some specimens than in others; tail, darkest toward the end; for an
inch or two from the tip it is often very dark-brown or black.
     There are some striking and permanent varieties of the Mink, both in size
and colour.  We possess a specimen from Canada, which is considerably darker
than those of the United States.  Its tail is an inch longer than usual, and the
white markings on its throat and chest are much narrower and less conspicuous
than in most individuals of this species.  In other respects we can see no
     In the Southern salt-water marshes this species is considerably larger in
size, the white markings on the chin and under surface are broader, the hair is
much coarser, the colour lighter, and the tail less bushy, than in Northern
specimens.  Those, however, which we obtained on the head waters of the Edisto
river are as dark as specimens from Pennsylvania and New-York.
     Along the mountain streams of the Northern and Middle States, we have often
met with another species of Mink considerably smaller and darker than those
found on large water-courses or around mill-ponds.  This species was figured in
the illustrations of our large edition, without distinguishing it from the lower
figure on the plate, which represents the common species.  We shall introduce a
separate figure of it in the present work.



     Length of head and body   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 13
     Length of tail (vertebrae)   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  7
     Length of tail, to end of fur   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  8

     Another specimen.                                           Inches.

     Length from point of nose to root of tail   .  .  .  .  .  . 14
     Length of tail (vertebrae)   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  7 1/2
     Length of tail, to end of hair  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  8

     Dimensions of the small species,
       (specimen from the Catskill mountains)                    Inches.

     Length of head and body   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 11
     Length of tail (vertebrae)   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  6
     Length of tail, to end of hair  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  7


     Next to the ermine, the Mink is the most active and destructive little
depreciator that prowls around the farm-yard, or the farmer's duck-pond; where
the presence of one or two of these animals will soon be made known by the
sudden disappearance of sundry young ducks and chickens.  The vigilant farmer
may perhaps see a fine fowl moving in a singular and most involuntary manner, in
the clutches of a Mink, towards a fissure in a rock or a hole in some pile of
stones, in the gray of the morning, and should he rush to the spot to ascertain
the fate of the unfortunate bird, he will see it suddenly twitched into a hole
too deep for him to fathom, and wish be had carried with him his
double-barrelled gun, to have ended at once the life of the voracious destroyer
of his carefully tended poultry.  Our friend, the farmer, is not, however,
disposed to allow the Mink to carry on the sport long, and therefore straightway
repairs to the house for his gun, and if it be loaded and ready for use, (as it
always should be in every well-regulated farm-house,) he speedily returns with
it to watch for the reappearance of the Mink and shoot him ere he has the
opportunity to depopulate his poultry-yard.  The farmer now takes a stand facing
the retreat into which the Mink has carried his property, and waits patiently
until it may please him to show his head again.  This, however, the cunning
rogue will not always accommodate him by doing, and he may lose much time to no
purpose.  Let us introduce you to a scene on our own little place near New-York.
     There is a small brook, fed by several springs of pure water, which we have
caused to be stopped by a stone dam to make a pond for ducks in the summer and
ice in the winter; above the pond is a rough bank of stones through which the
water filters into the pond.  There is a little space near this where the sand
and gravel have formed a diminutive beach.  The ducks descending to the water
are compelled to pass near this stony bank.  Here a Mink had fixed his quarters
with certainly a degree of judgment and audacity worthy of high praise, for no
settlement could promise to be more to his mind.  At early dawn the crowing of
several fine cocks, the cackling of many hens and chickens, and the paddling,
splashing, and quacking of a hundred old and young ducks would please his ears;
and by stealing to the edge of the bank of stones, with his body nearly
concealed between two large pieces ot' broken granite, he could look around and
see the unsuspecting ducks within a yard or two of his lurking place.  When thus
on the look-out, dodging his head backward and forward he waits until one of
them has approached close to him, and then with a rush seizes the bird by the
neck, and in a moment disappears with it between the rocks.  He has not,
however, escaped unobserved, and like other rogues deserves to be punished for
having taken what did not belong to him.  We draw near the spot, gun in hand,
and after waiting some time in vain for the appearance of the Mink, we cause
some young ducks to be gently driven down to the pond-diving for worms or food
of various kinds while danger so imminent is near to them-intent only on the
object they are pursuing, they turn not a glance toward the dark crevice where
we can now see the bright eyes of the Mink as he lies concealed.  The
unsuspecting birds remind us of some of the young folks in that large pond we
call the world, where, alas!  they may be in greater danger than our poor ducks
or chickens.  Now we see a fine hen descend to the water; cautiously she steps
on the sandy margin and dipping her bill in the clear stream, sips a few drops
and raises her head as if in gratitude to the Giver of all good; she continues
sipping and advancing gradually; she has now approached the fatal rocks, when
with a sudden rush the Mink has seized her; ere he can regain his hole, however,
our gun's sharp crack is heard and the marauder lies dead before us.
     We acknowledge that we have little inclination to say anything in defence
of the Mink.  We must admit, however, that although he is a cunning and
destructive rogue, his next door neighbour, the ermine or common weasel, goes
infinitely beyond him in his mischievous propensities.  Whilst the Mink is
satisfied with destroying one or two fowls at a time, on which he makes a hearty
meal; the weasel, in the very spirit of wanton destructiveness, sometimes in a
single night puts to death every tenant of the poultry-house!
     When residing at Henderson, on the banks of the Ohio river, we observed
that Minks were quite abundant, and often saw them carrying off rats which they
caught like the weasel or ferret, and conveyed away in their mouths, holding
them by the neck in the manner of a cat.
     Along the trout streams of our Eastern and Northern States, the Mink has
been known to steal fish that, having been caught by some angler, had been left
tied together with a string while the fisherman proceeded farther in quest of
more.  A person informed us that he had lost in this way thirty or forty fine
trout, which a Mink dragged off the bank into the stream and devoured, and we
have been told that by looking carefully after them, the Minks could be seen
watching the fisherman and in readiness to take his fish, should he leave it at
any distance behind him.  Mr. HUTSON of Halifax informed us that he had a salmon
weighing four pounds carried off by one of them.
     We have observed that the Mink is a tolerably expert fisher.  On one
occasion, whilst seated near a trout-brook in the northern part of the State of
New-York, we heard a sudden splashing in the stream and saw a large trout
gliding through the shallow water and making for some long overhanging roots on
the side of the bank.  A Mink was in close pursuit, and dived after it; in a
moment afterwards it reappeared with the fish in its mouth.  By a sudden rush
we induced it to drop the trout, which was upwards of a foot in length.
     We are disposed to believe, however, that fishes are not the principal food
on which the Mink subsists.  We have sometimes seen it feeding on frogs and
crayfish.  In the Northern States we have often observed it with a WILSON'S
meadow-mouse in its mouth, and in Carolina the very common cotton-rat furnishes
no small proportion of its food.  We have frequently remarked it coursing along
the edges of the marshes, and found that it was in search of this rat, which
frequents such localities, and we discovered that it was not an unsuccessful
mouser.  We once saw a Mink issuing from a hole in the earth, dragging by the
neck a large Florida rat.
     This species has a good nose, and is able to pursue its prey like a hound
following a deer.  A friend of ours informed us that once while standing on the
border of a swamp near the Ashley river, he perceived a marsh-hare dashing by
him; a moment after came a Mink with its nose near the ground, following the
frightened animal, apparently by the scent, through the marsh.
     In the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina, a hen-house was one season
robbed several nights in succession, the owner counting a chicken less every
morning.  No idea could be formed, however, of the manner in which it was
carried off.  The building was erected on posts, and was securely locked, in
addition to which precaution a very vigilant watch-dog was now put on guard,
being chained underneath the chicken-house.  Still, the number of fowls in it
diminished nightly, and one was as before missed every morning.
     We were at last requested to endeavour to ascertain the cause of the
vexatious and singular abstraction of our friend's chickens, and on a careful
examination we discovered a small hole in a corner of the building, leading to a
cavity between the weather-boarding and the sill.  On gently forcing outward a
plank, we perceived the bright eyes of a Mink peering at us and shining like a
pair of diamonds.  He had long been thus snugly ensconced, and was enabled to
supply himself with a regular feast without leaving the house, as the hole
opened toward the inside on the floor.  Summary justice was inflicted of course
on the concealed robber, and peace and security once more were restored in the
precincts of the chicken-yard.
     This species is very numerous in the salt-marshes of the Southern States,
where it subsists principally on the marsh-hen, (Rallus crepitans,) the sea-side
finch, (Ammodramus maritimus,) and the sharp-tailed finch, (A.  caudacutus,)
which, during a considerable portion of the year, feed on the minute shell-fish
and aquatic insects left on the mud and oyster-banks, on the subsiding of the
waters.  We have seen a Mink winding stealthily through the tall marsh-grass,
pausing occasionally to take an observation, and sometimes lying for the space
of a minute flat upon the mud:  at length it draws its hind-feet far forwards
under its body in the manner of a cat, its back is arched, its tail curled, and
it makes a sudden spring.  The screams of a captured marsh-hen succeed, and its
upraised fluttering wing gives sufficient evidence that it is about to be
transferred from its pleasant haunts in the marshes to the capacious maw of the
hungry Mink.
     It is at low tide that this animal usually captures the marsh-hen.  We have
often at high spring tide observed a dozen of those birds standing on a small
field of floating sticks and matted grasses, gazing stupidly at a Mink seated
not five feet from them.  No attempt was made by the latter to capture the birds
that were now within his reach.  At first we supposed that he might have already
been satiated with food and was disposed to leave the tempting marsh-hens till
his appetite called for more; but we were after more mature reflection inclined
to think that the high spring tides which occur, exposing the whole marsh to
view and leaving no place of concealment, frighten the Mink as well as the
marsh-hen; and as misery sometimes makes us familiar with strange associates, so
the Mink and the marsh-hen, like neighbour and brother, hold on to their little
floating islands till the waters subside, when each again follows the instincts
of nature.  An instance of a similar effect of fear on other animals was related
to us by an old resident of Carolina:  Some forty years ago, during a tremendous
flood in the Santee river, he saw two or three deer on a small mound not twenty
feet in diameter, surrounded by a wide sea of waters, with a cougar seated in
the midst of them; both parties, having seemingly entered into a truce at a time
when their lives seemed equally in jeopardy, were apparently disposed peaceably
to await the falling of the waters that surrounded them.
     The Minks which resort to the Southern marshes, being there furnished with
an abundant supply of food, are always fat, and appear to us considerably larger
than the same species in those localities where food is less abundant.
     This species prefers taking up its residence on the borders of ponds and
along the banks of small streams, rather than along large and broad rivers.  It
delights in frequenting the foot of rapids and waterfalls.  When pursued it
flies for shelter to the water, an element suited to its amphibious habits, or
to some retreat beneath the banks of the stream.  It runs tolerably well on high
ground, and we have found it on several occasions no easy matter to overtake it,
and when overtaken, we have learned to our cost that it was rather a troublesome
customer about our feet and legs, where its sharp canine teeth made some
uncomfortable indentations; neither was its odour as pleasant as we could have
desired.  It is generally supposed that the Mink never resorts to a tree to
avoid pursuit; we have, however, witnessed one instance to the contrary.  In
hunting for the ruffed-grouse, (T. umbellus,) we observed a little dog that
accompanied us, barking at the stem of a young tree, and on looking up,
perceived a Mink seated in the first fork, about twelve feet from the ground.
Our friend, the late Dr. WRIGHT, of Troy, informed us that whilst he was walking
on the border of a wood, near a stream, a small animal which he supposed to be a
black squirrel, rushed from a tuft of grass, and ascended a tree.  After gaining
a seat on a projecting branch, it peeped down at the intruder on its haunts,
when he shot it, and picking it up, ascertained that it was a Mink.
     We think, however, that this animal is not often seen to ascend a tree, and
these are the only instances of its doing so which are known to us.
     This species is a good swimmer, and like the musk-rat dives at the flash of
a gun; we have observed, however, that the percussion-cap now in general use is
too quick for its motions, and that this invention bids fair greatly to lessen
its numbers.  When shot in the water, the body of the Mink, as well as that of
the otter, has so little buoyancy, and its bones are so heavy, that it almost
invariably sinks.
     The Mink, like the musk-rat and ermine, does not possess much cunning, and
is easily captured in any kind of trap; it is taken in steel-traps and
box-traps, but more generally in what are called dead-falls.  It is attracted by
any kind of flesh, but we have usually seen the traps baited with the head of a
ruffed-grouse, wild duck, chicken, jay, or other bird.  The Mink is exceedingly
tenacious of life, and we have Found it still alive under a dead-fall, with a
pole lying across its body pressed down by a weight of 150 lbs., beneath which
it had been struggling for nearly twenty-four hours.
     This species, as well as the skunk and the ermine, emits an offensive odour
when provoked by men or dogs, and this habit is exercised likewise in a moderate
degree whenever it is engaged in any severe struggle with an animal or bird on
which it has seized.  We were once attracted by the peculiar and well known
plaintive cry of a hare, in a marsh on the side of one of our southern
rice-fields, and our olfactories were at the same time regaled with the strong
fetid odour of the Mink; we found it in possession of a large marsh-hare, with
which, from the appearance of the trampled grass and mud, it had been engaged in
a fierce struggle for some time.
     The latter end of February or the beginning of March, in the latitude of
Albany, N.Y., is the rutting season of the Mink.  At this period the ground is
usually still covered with snow, but the male is notwithstanding very restless,
and his tracks may every where be traced, along ponds, among the slabs around
saw-mills, and along nearly every stream of water.  He seems to keep on foot all
day as well as through the whole night.  Having for several days in succession
observed's number of Minks on the ice hurrying up and down a mill-pond, where we
had not observed any during a whole winter, we took a position near a place
which we had seen them pass, in order to procure some of them.
     We shot six in the course of the morning, and ascertained that they were
all large and old males.  As we did not find a single female in a week, whilst
we obtained a great number of males, we came to the conclusion that the females,
daring this period, remain in their burrows.  About the latter end of April the
young are produced.  We saw six young dug from a hole in the bank of a Carolina
rice-field; on another occasion we found five enclosed in a large nest situated
on a small island in the marshes of Ashley river.  In the State of New-York, we
saw five taken from a hollow log, and we are inclined to set down that as the
average number of young this species brings forth at a time.
     The Mink, when taken young, becomes very gentle, and forms a strong
attachment to those who fondle it in a state of domestication.  RICHARDSON saw
one in the "possession of a Canadian woman, that passed the day in her pocket,
looking out occasionally when its attention was roused by any unusual noise."
We had in our possession a pet of this kind for eighteen months; it regularly
made a visit to an adjoining fish-pond both morning and evening, and returned to
the house of its own accord, where it continued during the remainder of the day.
It waged war against the Norway rats which had their domicile in the dam that
formed the fish-pond, and it caught the frogs which had taken possession of its
banks.  We did not perceive that it captured many fish, and it never attacked
the poultry.  It was on good terms with the dogs and cats, and molested no one
unless its tail or foot was accidentally trod upon, when it invariably revenged
itself by snapping at the foot of the offender.
     It was rather dull at mid-day, but very active and playful in the morning
and evening and at night.  It never emitted its disagreeable odour except when
it had received a sudden and severe hurt.  It was fond of squatting in the
chimney-corner, and formed a particular attachment to an arm-chair in our study.
     The skins of the Mink were formerly an article of commerce, and were used
for making muffs, tippets, &e.; they sold for about fifty cents each.
RICHARDSON states that they at present are only taken by the traders of the fur
company to accommodate the Indians, and that they are afterward burnt, as they
will not repay the expense of carriage.  The fur, however although short, is
even finer than that of the marten.
     A short time since, we were kindly presented by CHARLES P. CHOUTEAU Esq.,
with a Mink skin of a beautiful silver-gray colour, the fur of which is quite
different from the ordinary coat of the animal.  These beautiful. skins are
exceedingly rare, and six of them, when they are united, will make a muff, worth
at least a hundred dollars.  A skin, slightly approaching the fine quality and
colour of the one just mentioned, exists in the Academy of Natural Sciences at
Philadelphia, but it is brownish, and the fur is not very good.

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     The Mink is a constant resident of nearly every part of the continent of
North America.  RICHARDSON saw it as far north as latitude 66 degrees, on the
banks of the Mackenzie river, and supposed that it ranged to the mouth of that
river in latitude 69 degrees; it exists in Canada, and we have seen it in every
State of the Union.  We observed it on the Upper Missouri and on the Yellow
Stone river; it is said to exist also to the West of the Rocky Mountains and
along the shores of the Pacific ocean.

                                GENERAL REMARKS.

     This species appears, as far as we have been able to ascertain, to have
been first noticed by Governor SMITH of Virginia, in 1624, and subsequently by
SAGARD THEODAT and LA HONTAN.  The latter calls it an amphibious sort of little
pole-cat,--"Les fouteriaux, qui sont de petites fouines amphibies."  KALM and
LAWSON refer to it; the former stating that the English and the Swedes gave it
the name of Mink, Moenk being the name applied to a closely allied species
existing in Sweden.
     The doubts respecting the identity of the American Mink (P. vison) and the
Mustela lutreola of the north of Europe, have not as yet been satiSfactorily
solved.  PENNANT in one place admits the American vison as a true species, and
in another supposes the M. lutreola to exist on both continents.  Baron CUVIER
at one time regarded them as so distinct that he placed them under different
genera; but subsequently in a note stated his opinion that they are both one
species.  Dr. GODMAN supposed that both the Pekan (Mustela Canadensis) and vison
(P. vison) are nothing more than mere varieties of Mustela lutreola; in regard
to the Pekan he was palpably in error.  RICHARDSON considers them distinct
species, although he does not seem to have had an opportunity of instituting a
comparison.  We have on two or three occasions compared specimens from both
continents.  The specimens, however, from either country differ so considerably
among themselves, that it is somewhat difficult without a larger number than can
generally be brought together, to institute a satisfactory comparison.
     The fact that both species exist far to the northward, and consequently
approach each other toward the Arctic circle, presents an argument favourable to
their identity.  In their semi-palmated feet, as well as in their general form
and habits, they resemble each other.
     The following reasons, however, have induced us, after some hesitation, and
not without a strong desire for farther opportunities of comparison, especially
of the skulls, to regard the American P. vison as distinct from the lutreola of
the north of Europe.
     P. lutreola, in the few specimens we have examined, is smaller than P.
vison, the body of the latter frequently exceeding eighteen inches, (we have a
large, specimen that measures twenty-one inches,)  but we have never found any
specimen of the lutreola exceeding thirteen inches from nose to root of tail,
and have generally found that specimens, even when their teeth were considerably
worn, thereby indicating that the animals were adults, measured less than twelve
     P. lutreola is considerably darker in colour, resembling in this respect
the small black species mentioned by us as existing along our mountain streams.
The tail is less bushy, and might be termed sub-cylindrical.  P. lutreola is,
besides, more deficient in white markings on the under surface than the other
species; the chin is generally, but not always, white; but there is seldom any
white either on the throat or chest.