The summer hunt is on along the banks of Floyds Fork. And if you look carefully, you might be fortunate enough to catch one of the hunters in action—the American Mink.
Mink are in the Mustelidae (from Latin mustela, weasel) family of carnivorous mammals. This family includes the otter, badger, weasel, marten, ferret, mink and wolverine. Animals in this family are typically small, short legged, have round ears and thick fur. Most mustelids are solitary, nocturnal, and active year-round. When it comes to The Parklands “neighborhood”, this is one, very, very tough family. You don’t mess with them.
Solitary in their distribution, mink have a home range of about 1/3 to ½ mile in which they prefer large segments of shoreline. In The Parklands, these critters enjoy an almost entirely aquatic diet featuring fish, crayfish, and amphibians. A stealthy hunter on land and in the water, the webbed footed mink are regarded by some as one of our most intelligent local predators. Surprisingly, mink don’t have a strong sense of smell. Their most important hunting tool is their incredible sight – which is also part of what makes spotting them quite tough as they see you before you see them.
Mink are generally about 1-3 pounds in weight and about 12-15 inches long, with conspicuous tails measuring 6-10 inches in length. And while we are surrounded with bad news about many species suffering from population declines, it is good to note that the population of the American mink is judged as stable and healthy across its range. Another interesting fact is that American mink are considered an invasive pest when introduced outside of their native range here in North America.
Known for their fur coats, mink are typically very dark brown, or nearly black through their whole body. They molt their coats twice a year much like your pets at home with a summer and winter coat. A mink’s coat is dense and water repellant making it ideal for swimming and diving in and out of the water. Tremendous triathletes, mink swim, run (speeds up to 4 mph), and climb trees.
Photo Courtesy: Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife
Now, mink can crank up the stink. The smell produced by their scent glands was described by Clinton Hart Merriam as more unbearable than that produced by skunks. He added it was “one of the few substances, of animal, vegetable, or mineral origin, that has, on land or sea, rendered me aware of the existence of the abominable sensation called nausea“.
Keep an eye out for mink tracks along Floyds Fork!
The best opportunity to spot a mink is while paddling on Floyds Fork or at one of the bridge overlooks. Look along the shore banks and cut banks for solitary mink on hunting expeditions. They typically run parallel to the water a foot or two out of the creek itself. When mink go into the water, it is to hunt. And they will generally resurface near where they dive into the pools. You’ll have to have a quick eye to spot these quiet predators, but when you see one, it will change the way you view the wildness of Floyds Fork.
Feature Photo Courtesy: James River Association