Monday, January 19, 2009

Neighbor with a mink coat

If you live here in Tennessee you just may have a neighbor with a mink coat and you didn’t even know it. That neighbor is a real mink.

Most people don’t know that wild mink live right here in Eastern Tennessee. If you keep your eyes open and know where to look you just might see one.

Mink are probably best known for the coats that they are made into. These days all mink coats are made from farm raised animals which have been bred to have even better fur than their wild relatives. Mink coats have lost some favor in the past several years due to some misguided environmentalists actually throwing paint on people wearing mink coats to protest the killing of the animals. When I lived in Texas I belonged to the Dallas Ski Club and just about every year we travelled to Vail Colorado to ski. I never knew so many Texans owned mink coats until we went to Vail where they could show off and look like movie stars in their mink coats after skiing. The rest of the year the coats were in the closet.

Mink are native to North America and they are found all over the U.S. and Canada except the extreme southwest. Like everywhere else, here in Tennessee they are usually found around water, especially small brushy streams. They normally hunt small mammals, fish, frogs, crawfish, etc. at night, but they can sometimes be seen during the day. I have seen them twice in small streams along the golf courses in Fairfield Glade. Usually they are gone in a flash, but once my wife and I saw one crossing the roadway near a lake at night. We stopped the car and Mr. Mink walked up beside the car and looked up into the open window at my wife before going on his way.

Mink are a beautiful dark chestnut brown all over except for often a white patch under their chin. They are about 2 feet long including their 8 inch tail. Their smaller cousin, the long-tailed weasel which also lives here, and can be distinguished by their full yellowish underbody. And, like their other cousin, skunks, mink have powerful scent glands. The smell is similar but the mink doesn’t spray like a skunk.

We are really fortunate to have so many different kinds of wildlife in our area. Mink are just one more example of the diverse wild area that we live in. Anytime you are near water, especially small streams, watch for mink. They are one of our most beautiful animals, and most people don’t even know they are here.

P.S. I wish I could say that I took the picture of the mink above, but I didn't. Even though I have seen three within a few miles of my house, I never had my camera with me when I did. Plus, even if I did, the little buggers don't usually sit still long enough for me to focus and shoot. This picture is courtesy of the Kansas Dept. of Wildlife and Parks.