PUTORIUS VISON.--LINN. [Mustela vison] MINK. PLATE XXXIII. MALE AND FEMALE. P. fulvus, mente albo; auribus curtis; pedibus semi-palmatis; cauda corporis dimidiam longa. Mustela marte minor.
CHARACTERS. Less than the pine marten; general colour, brown; chin white; ears short; feet semi-palmate; tail, half the length of the body. SYNONYMES. 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. DESCRIPTION. 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, ventral. 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 beneath. COLOUR. 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 difference. 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. DIMENSIONS. Inches. 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 HABITS. 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 inches. 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.