The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Mink and Its Texas Kin
by Ron Smith, The McAllen Monitor, 14 August 2005

There are many mink in the Rio Grande Valley. They can be spotted when the
temperature drops into the startling 60's. These are not lively specimens, and
no longer do they hunt the shorelines of waters anywhere. Instead, they adorn
the lovely shoulders of the South Texas ladies I like to call "Iron
Bluebonnets," closely related to the Steel Magnolias of the deep South, another
very complimentary nickname, I should add in defense.

I did see a living, breathing mink a few years ago when it streaked across
the deck of our home in the northeastern Michigan woods. This is very unusual
because they are mostly night creatures and prowl the river banks for prey such
as fish, turtles, crayfish, mussels, frogs, rodents, insects, birds, and
anything else they can get their partially webbed feet on. Comparatively few
people ever get to glimpse one because they do not care much for daylight
activity. This one, a dark and lovely animal, was no doubt after something that
was visiting our bird feeders.

The word mink comes from a Swedish word, maenk, meaning....mink. In Texas,
they range from the eastern half of the state to the Panhandle, wherever here is
water. They are widespread except in the arid Southwest. By the way, they are
also good indicators of the health of any wetland, declining in numbers when the
water quality plummets, especially from chemical pollution.

Although only the size of house cats and weighing a mere three pounds, they
are fearless, tireless hunters who kill with swift efficiency. They are driven
to this by their manic, nervous personality. These are the real perpetual
motion machines, burning calories like a marathon runner. To meet their needs,
they hunt territory that can cover as much as 2500 acres.

They make dens under roots along the waterways or in burrows. They may use
several in their hungry wanderings. Muskrats must especially beware. Mink will
attack them in their houses and then take over.

This is usually a solitary animal except for the practice of polygamy
during mating season. The young are born quite helpless, blind and vulnerable,
but in five months they reach adult size. This acceleration seems necessary ---
the average mink only lives one year or less! They are preyed upon in turn by
owls, cats and coyotes, and their own kind in fights. Severe winters and the
resultant scarcity of food can seriously affect the population.

Most animal stories portray them as odorous, vicious killers, bloodthirsty
in their intensity. They come from a family of mammals possessing musk glands,
the Mustelidae, which includes the fierce and powerful wolverine (except in the
2005 Rose Bowl), weasels, otters and skunks. Still you have to respect them for
their skill and determination. Actually, they rarely sneak into the chicken
coop, but when they do, it is Avian Armageddon.

Their value as a fur source has been astonishing. In Nebraska, to cite one
state, from 1980 to 1989, trappers took in $121,000 from 6400 skins. In Texas,
however, mink rank only 9th in fur-bearing animals, probably due to their lower
population.

Recently, our local Michigan paper featured mink in a regular column titled
"Looking Back." Fifty years ago a local mink farmer sued the Air Force because
the nearby base sent planes so low over his place that the female mink killed
their "kits."

I treasure that image of the mink crossing our deck, a sinuous, almost
sable undulation against the man-made boards, its body in a posture emanating
deadly intent. I would never want to be a muskrat under attack in its reedy
hut.


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2 Comments:

At 4:09 PM, Blogger lenĂ© said...

Do you happen to have any resources you could recommend about the impact of chemical pollution on the mink?

Loved the "Iron Bluebonnets."

 
At 11:02 PM, Anonymous Laurene said...

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