Mink

Neovison vison (formerly Mustela vison)

 
mink tracks drawings by Kim A. Cabrera. do not use without permission
 
Mink track. Right front foot. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera
A perfect right front mink track in mud along the river's shore
 

Natural History of Mink

Mink spotted along the Eel River. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

Mink are mustelids - relatives of weasels. Mink are bigger than weasels and are aquatic. Mink weigh one to three pounds. Weasels are usually about half a pound. Mink eat fish, frogs, insects, mice, birds, and amphibians. They share their habitat near waterways with river otters.

Mink have brown coats with a white patch under the chin. Weasels also have a white patch on the chest, but it often extends down the underside of the weasel.

Tracks can be found where the water meets the shore. Mink live near creeks, rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes. Mink tracks show five toes on both front and hind feet. The front track often shows only four toes. Tracks are a bit more than an inch long. The toes of mink tracks can appear pointed due to the claw marks. The five toes are asymmetrical in arrangement, with the inner toe (the smallest one) being set back further in the track. This is very visible on the hind tracks.

Mink are usually nocturnal, but are sometimes active around dawn and dusk. These animals usually hunt alone. They do not hibernate in the winter. They continue to hunt, sometimes even traveling under ice that has formed on the river surface.

Mink live in most of North America, except the southwest.

 
All four tracks of a Mink. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

This perfect set of mink tracks shows all the details. The gait pattern seen here is typical of mink. It is also one of the common gaits used by skunks. The front tracks show an extra pad below the main foot pad. The main foot pad is called the metacarpal pad. Some trackers just call it the "heel pad" for ease of communication. The inner toe is located furthest back in the tracks left by the hind feet. Look closely at the photo and you will see this characteristic. This is also a characteristic of otter trails.

 
Set of four mink tracks. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

Another perfect set of mink tracks in wet sand at the edge of a river. Notice the somewhat pointed appearance of the toes, which is caused by the claw marks.

 

Mink trails on the left. Otter trails on the right.  Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

In this photo, you see the trails of two otters on the right. To the left, you see the trails of two mink. There was a third mink with this group, but its trail was out of the photo on the left. Notice the similarity of the gaits used by both the otters and the minks. This is a common gait pattern for mustelid family members.

 
Mink trail crossed by tracks of a domestic cat. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

This photo shows something you don't see often. The trail of a mink was crossed by a domestic cat. In this case, my cat, Boots, was along for a walk with me. The cat tracks are the large, round-looking ones that cross in the middle of the photo. The mink's trail goes from right to left.

 
Two Mink trails and a single otter track. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

Here we see two mink trails and the right hind track of a river otter. The otter track is the larger one in the lower right of the photo.

 

Mink bounding gait. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

A perfect set of mink tracks in a bounding gait pattern.
 
Mink trot. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

Each group of four tracks in this photo is one complete set of mink tracks. This gait is also seen in otter trails and skunk trails.

 

One Mink track. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

A mink track showing all five toes. The fifth toe is barely visible on the left side of the track. Mink tracks can sometimes be confusing because only four toes will show. They can be confused with the tracks of other species when that happens.

 
Mink trail near water. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

Mink tracks can commonly be found right at the edge of the waterway, like in this photo. This was taken along a large river. However, mink tracks can be found near streams, ponds, and creeks, as well as rivers. Remember, they share the same or similar habitats with river otters.

 
Mink trail at water's edge. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

More mink tracks just at the edge of the water.

 
Mink trotting trail in mud. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

Mink trail in mud, showing one of their typical gaits.

 
wild Mink. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

A wild mink seen along the south fork Eel River. A rare sighting!

 

Wild Mink hunting. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

The mink went in and out of the water several times. It was actively hunting, but ignored me for the most part. It didn't come close either.

 

Mink on rocks. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

The mink hurrying along the rocks above water line.
 
Mink looking at me. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

This is about as close as it would get. It seemed curious about me and sat there watching for a long time. About six months previous to this, some friends and I were swimming in the river. We were near some rocks like these and were floating with just our heads above water. Suddenly, a mink appeared on the rocks. It appeared somewhat agitated, looking at us and at the water. It ran behind some clumps of vegetation, then back out. It saw us, but seemed confused as to what we were and what we were doing in the water so close to it. We floated past and let the mink get back to its business of surviving. We were grateful for the sighting since these animals are fairly rare in this area.

 

Mink retreating under a rock. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

The mink exiting the water and going into a hole under a rock.
 

Mink track. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 1999.

Mink track found in a state park in 1999 when I worked there. Mink tracks were rare even in the park.

 
The Mink and The Otter - A Story in the Tracks
Communication Among Mustelids
Otter tracks that the mink followed. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2005.

One day, I was out tracking and I found this huge swath of otter tracks on the sandy river bank. I followed the otter trails.

 
Mink and otter tracks. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2005.

Then the otter trails were crossed by the tracks of a mink. The mink tracks head from lower right to upper left in this photo.

 

Mink and otter tracks. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2005.

The tracks of the mink changed course and followed the tracks of one particular otter. They were heading inland, away from the water, so I followed those trails. They might be up to something interesting to a tracker!

 

Mink tracks showing where mink investigated otter scat. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2005.

This is where both sets of tracks ended up. You can see that the otter came up and deposited a scat in the sand. The mink came along later and must have smelled the scat. This caused the mink, who is also a mustelid family member, to go investigate.

 
Mink tracks showing where mink investigated otter scat. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2005.

Here is a view from another angle. You can see that the mink walked right past the scat deposit. Among mustelids, which include both mink and otters (as well as skunks and others), scats are used as a means of communication.
Perhaps this scat let the mink know it was now entering otter territory!

 

Mink trail showing where mink investigated otter scat. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2005.

After checking out the scat, the mink changed course again and headed on down the river bank, following the otter trails.

 
Mink trail along the river. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2005.

The mink's trail went under these plants and vines before coming back into the open on the other side. The mink then went back into the water. The walk on the sand was a short detour to check out the otter scat.

 
Mink Tracks
Mink tracks in sand. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2005.
A pair of overlapping mink tracks in sand.
 
Mink track in sand. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2005.
Another nice mink track in sand.
 
A perfect mink track in mud. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A very perfect mink track in mud. This mink exited the water and walked along approximately 1/4 mile of muddy shoreline. There was a lot of gravel and very few of the prints turned out this perfectly. This was the best track in the entire sequence. I made casts of the best tracks using dental stone, which is a great casting medium.

 
Beautiful mink tracks in mud. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A nice pair of mink tracks in fine river mud. This silty mud was deposited when the water receded following a rain. It is great for tracking because it holds details so well.

 
Mink tracks in mud. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A set of all four mink tracks. The mink bounded on land and left its pawprints in sets of four, such as this one.

 
 

Mink Tracks

Track photo courtesy of Mark Seaver.

 

 
 

Mink track in mud. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 1999.

Nicely detailed mink track in mud at the river's edge.

 

 

Mink track cast in plaster.

A mink track cast from a mold.

Personal Notes on Mink

I found mink tracks once along a creek called Bull Creek in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California. They were almost perfect prints in mud. I made plaster casts of a couple of these. I have rarely found mink tracks in the park since then. They probably aren't as abundant in the area as otters. The tracks below were found just outside the park boundaries, along the Eel River.
Mink tracks found along the Eel River near Redway, California. These mink tracks were found along the south fork of the Eel River in February, 2001. The site where these were found is the same site that is frequented by the family of otters that live near my place. It is uncommon to find mink tracks here. They are around, but are not often seen because of their nocturnal habits. Mink hunt near water. This photo shows a pair of overlapping mink tracks. The claw marks are barely visible on a couple of toes here. Early explorations of this area were driven by fur trappers looking for untrapped streams. They were followed by homesteaders and loggers. Mink were one of the furbearers found at that time.
 

Mink. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

The mink watching me from shore.

Mink. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera

Mink posing on a rock.

 

 

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Copyright 1997, 2009, 2012. Text, photos, and drawings by Kim A. Cabrera except where otherwise noted.

Page updated: April 12, 2012

Copyright 1997, 2009, 2012. Text, drawings, and photos by Kim A. Cabrera - Desert Moon Design