I was about nine years old the day my father sent me running in shock over a smell I had never imagined possible. We were both in the basement and I was watching him skin a mink that he had shot …
I was about nine years old the day my father sent me running in shock over a smell I had never imagined possible. We were both in the basement and I was watching him skin a mink that he had shot while we were ice fishing the day before.
He had trapped, mostly muskrats, for several years as a young man and had made good money doing it so this wasn’t the first time he had skinned something in our basement. It was the first time I could recall him skinning a mink.
It was all going well until he nicked the mink’s anal gland, which instantly released a smell so powerful it seemed almost supernatural. It’s been reported as among the worst odors produced by an animal and is widely described as being significantly worse than a skunk and being capable of inducing nausea.
I recall fleeing the back corner of the basement, where the mink was hanging from a nail on a floor joist and running upstairs. My mother, to this day, recalls my screaming, “Daddy cut the stink on the mink!”
There was, of course, no escape. The mink stink was like a silent explosion and as fast as I ran, the smell beat me to the top of the stairs. Within seconds, the smell permeated the entire house, filling every corner with a stink that seemed almost malevolent. I don’t recall how many days it took to air out the place, but it was an experience that left its mark on all of us. The mink’s fur, of course, was ruined.
It was one of only a few experiences I’ve had with mink in my life, which is somewhat surprising considering they’re considered the most common mammal predator associated with water in the state, according to the DNR. Their generally nocturnal nature, of course, means that we humans rarely encounter more than their tracks.
The mink is a remarkably effective, even voracious predator that can be incredibly quick when pursuing prey on land. I once watched a mink chase a snowshoe hare right through our yard and was amazed at its speed. While I think the hare got away, it was definitely running for its life.
Mink mostly hunt near water, where they are known to catch fish, frogs, and crayfish, as well as ducks, muskrats, and just about anything else it can catch. They most often hunt the edges of streams and wetlands but are also remarkably proficient divers that can dive to depths of ten feet and remain underwater for many minutes. While diving, their heart rate slows, which allows them to use less oxygen. According to Wikipedia, they can also climb trees in pursuit of prey, which means there are few places to hide from a hungry mink.
The mink is a mid-sized mustelid, which means it’s a member of the weasel family. With the sole exception of the sea otter, which is one of the largest members of this family of carnivores, the mustelids are distinguished by, among other things, the powerful smelling secretions of their anal glands, which they normally use to mark their territories. Other mustelids in Minnesota include badgers, river otters, fishers, pine martens, and the three species of native weasels.
Mink, like other mustelids, used to be highly desired for their pelts and millions of mink were raised in captivity, particularly in Europe, as a more reliable method of supplying the fur trade. Through selective breeding, farmed mink fur now comes in multiple colors, although wild mink in Minnesota are typically dark brown with a small bib on its chest and a white underbelly.
Adults are about a foot and a half long and weigh just two-to-four pounds, but that is two-to-four pounds you wouldn’t want to tangle with.
Mink are very solitary and seem generally disagreeable with other mink, even when mating, an act which could be easily mistaken for one mink attacking the other. Reports are it’s not a pretty sight. It’s probably pretty smelly as well.