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semiaquatic carnivorous mammal of the genus Mustela, closely related to the weaselweasel,
name for certain small, lithe, carnivorous mammals of the family Mustelidae (weasel family). Members of this family are generally characterized by long bodies and necks, short legs, small rounded ears, and medium to long tails.
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 and highly prized for its fur. One species, Mustela vison, is found over most of North America and another, M. lutreola, inhabits Europe—where it is now rare except in Russia—and central Asia. The mink has a slender, arched body, with a long neck, short legs, and a bushy tail. The fur is thick and shiny; in wild strains it is rich brown all over the body, except for a white throat patch. Like other members of the weasel family, minks have musk glands that produce an acrid secretion. Excellent swimmers, they usually live near water, where they catch much of their food. The American mink feeds on aquatic mammals, such as muskrat, as well as fish, frogs, crustaceans, and birds. It is about 20 to 28 in. (51–71 cm) long, including the 7 to 9 in. (18–23 cm) tail. Much of the mink used in the fur trade is bred and raised on farms, where many color varieties have been produced. Because mink are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and can tranmit the virus to humans, farmed minks that became infected with the virus were culled in the tens of thousands in a number of countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Descendants of escaped farm animals have established mink populations where none previously existed, e.g., in Great Britain and Iceland. Minks are classified in the phylum ChordataChordata
, phylum of animals having a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, as the chief internal skeletal support at some stage of their development. Most chordates are vertebrates (animals with backbones), but the phylum also includes some small marine invertebrate animals.
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, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, family Mustelidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a predatory mammal of the genus Mustela of the family Mustelidae. There are two species—the European mink (M. lutreola), which is distributed in Europe, and the American mink (M. visen), which inhabits North America. The European mink inhabits the plains of the European USSR and southwestern Siberia. The American mink has been acclimatized in the USSR in a number of regions of the European part, Siberia, and the Far East.

Both species of mink have a long, slender, supple body. The European mink has a body length of up to 45 cm and a tail length of up to 20 cm. The American mink is somewhat larger, having a body length to 54 cm. Mink have short limbs and slightly webbed feet. The thick, shiny fur is various shades of brown. Mink live near lakes and swamps and near forest rivers with shallows and whirlpools that do not freeze. They make their own burrows or settle in the burrows of other animals (water voles, muskrats). Mink feed on small mammals, birds, bird eggs, frogs, and fish. The mating period is from February to April, and the gestation period is 43 to 47 days. Mink are valuable furbearers.


Of the two species, the American mink is more often used in fur farming, and large mink are currently being bred on fur farms. The mink reaches sexual maturity at nine or ten months of age. There are five or six (up to 12) young in a litter. The mink are given meat-fish (in the form of raw sausage), milk, and vegetable feeds. They are kept outdoors or indoors in metal mesh cages under lean-tos. The animals are killed at five or six months of age, at which time the winter fur has developed. The breeding animals are used for three or four years.

Mink breeding in the USSR and abroad is aimed at obtaining colored mink rather than the standard dark brown and black by using the genetic rules of inheritance of fur color. The first colored mink (light blue, beige, and white) appeared as a result of natural mutation; dozens of colored varieties were subsequently developed by means of crossbreeding. The mutations are more valuable than the fur of wild mink.


Novikov, G. A. Evropeiskaia norka. Leningrad, 1938.
Mlekopitaiushchie Sovetskogo Soiuza, vol. 2, part 1. Edited by V. G. Geptner and N. P. Naumov. Moscow, 1967.
Pushnoe zverovodstvo i krolikovodstvo, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(vertebrate zoology)
Any of three species of slender-bodied aquatic carnivorous mammals in the genus Mustela of the family Mustelidae.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. any of several semiaquatic musteline mammals of the genus Mustela, of Europe, Asia, and North America, having slightly webbed feet
2. the highly valued fur of these animals, esp that of the American mink (M. vison)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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