MINK. The genus Pletorius, belonging to the family Mustelidx or Weasel-like animals (see MAMMALIA, xv. p. 440), contains a few species called Minks, distinguished from the rest by slight structural modifications, and especially by serniaquatic habits. They form the subgenus Lutreola of Wagner, the genus ison, of Gray. As in other members of the genus, the dental formula is c 1, p m ; total 34. They are distinguished from the Polecats, Stoats, and Weasels, which constitute the remainder of the group, by the facial part of the skull being narrower and more approaching in form that of the Martens, by the premolar teeth (especially the first of the upper jaw) being larger, by the toes being partially webbed, and by the absence of hair in the intervals between the naked pads of the soles of the feet. The two best-known species, so much alike in size, form, colour, and habits that although they are widely separated geographically some zoologists question their specific distinction, are P. lutreola, the _Yon or Sump -otter (Marsh-Otter) of eastern Europe, and P. vison, the Mink of North America. The former inhabits Finland, Poland, and the greater part of Russia, though not found east of the Ural mountains. Formerly it extended westward into central Germany, but it is now very rare, if not extinct, in that country. The latter is found in places which suit its habits throughout the whole of North America. Another form, P. sibiriens, from eastern Asia, of which much less is known, appears to connect the true Minks with the Polecats.
The name may have originated in the Swedish macale applied to the European animal. Captain John Smith, in his ifistory of Virginia (1626), at p. 27, speaks of "Martins, Powlecats, Weasels, and Minkes," showing that the animal must at that time have been distinguished by a vernacular appellation from its congeners. By later authors, as Lawson (1709) and Pennant (1784), it is often mitten "Minx." For the following description, chiefly taken from the American form (though almost equally applicable to that of Europe) we are mainly indebted to Elliott Coues's Fur-bearing Animals of North America, 1877.
In size it much resembles the English Polecat, - the length of the head and body being usually from 15 to 18 inches, that of the tail to the end of the hair about 9 inches, The female is considerably smaller than the male. The tail is bushy, but tapering at the end. The ears are small, low, rounded, and scarcely project beyond the adjacent fur. The pelage consists of a dense, soft, matted under fur, mixed with long, stiff, lustrous hairs on all parts of the body and tail. The gloss is greatest on the upper parts ; on the tail the bristly hairs predominate. Northern specimens have the finest and most glistening pelage ; in those from southern regions there is less difference between the under and over fur, and the whole pelage is coarser and harsher. In colour, different specimens present a considerable range of variation, but the animal is ordinarily of a rich dark brown, scarcely or not paler below than on the general npper parts ; but the back is usually the darkest, and the tail is nearly black. The under jaw, from the chin about as far back as the angle of the mouth, is generally white. In the European Mink the upper lip is also white, but, as this occasionally occurs in American specimens, it fails as an absolutely distinguishing character. Besides the white ou the chin, there are often other irregular white patches on the under parts of the body. In very rare instances the tail is tipped with white. The fur, like that of most of the animals of the group to which it belongs, is an important article of commerce.
The principal characteristic of the Mink in comparison with its congeners is its amphibious mode of life. It is to the water what the other Weasels are to the land, or Martens to the trees, being as essentially aquatic in its habits as the Otter, Beaver, or Musk-rat, and spending perhaps more of its time in the water than it does on land. It swims with most of the body submerged, and (lives with perfect ease, remaining long without coming to the surface to breathe. It makes its nest in burrows in the banks of streams, breeding once a year about the month of April, and producing five or six young at a birth. Its food COMiSiS of frogs, fish, freshwater molluscs and crustaceans, as well as mite, rats, musk-rats, rabbits, and small birds. In common with the other animals of the genus, it has a very peculiar and disagreeable effluvium, which, according to Cones, is more powerful, penetrating, and lasting than that of any animal of the country except the Skunk. It also possesses the courage, ferocity, and tenacity of life of its allies. When taken young, however, it can be readily tamed, and lately Minks have been extensively bred in captivity iu America both for the sake of their fur and for the purpose of using them in like manner as Ferrets in England, to clear buildings of ruts. (W. H. F.)