In mid-March, Linda and I were out at the Muck. She was watching birds and I was taking photos. We had been out there about an hour when a pair of hooded mergansers landed in the beaver pond next to the blind.
I got some decent pictures, and then we saw something swimming on the surface towards them. It only took a second to determine it was a mink, and it swam between the two ducks and disappeared into the cattails.
Now, this is the second mink we have seen out in the daylight this spring, one at the Muck and one on Pine Creek below Darling Run. We are usually only out for an hour or two on Saturday or Sunday. The question then is whether these sightings are merely coincidences or do they mean something?
As an aside, I was excited to see and photograph these minks. Growing up, I trapped a lot of muskrats but never caught a mink. I did find one dead in the road one snow day, and I grabbed it before my friend could. It became one of my better exercises in taxidermy.
Anyhow, having seen these two minks recently, I thought back to a discussion I had at the Muck back in January with two gentlemen from Tioga. They had trapped in the past, and we got to talking about muskrats and the terribly low pelt prices. These guys noted that they had really noticed an increase in mink in recent years, as low fur prices discouraged people from trapping.
Muskrats are a high-density species. They breed like rabbits and can survive in thick marshes. Muskrats have multiple, large litters per year, and reach sexual maturity quickly.
According to an exhibit at the Port Penn Interpretive Center in Delaware, “one pair of muskrats and their successive generations can produce 3 million offspring over a period of seven years.” Muskrats are a favored food of minks. So, as folks gave up on trapping muskrats, they are increasing the potential prey population of the minks.
People also stopped trapping minks. Minks have significantly larger territories than muskrats, and the mink density is significantly lower. Accordingly, trapping was able to control the number of minks. When the trapping decreased, the number of predators (minks) increased, as did their prey (muskrats). According to the gentlemen from Tioga, we are seeing both populations soar in the county.
On the one hand, this might seem like good news: more wildlife for folks to watch and to photograph. The problem, though, is what else minks eat and what happens when muskrats max out the suitable wetlands. The mink will then have to turn to other items of their diet including song birds, waterfowl eggs and young fish (including wild and stocked trout), snakes and frogs.
Over the arc of my lifetime, trapping has gained a strongly negative reputation, and people lost sight of wildlife management functions that trapping served. With so few trappers still at it, we may now be seeing the ramifications.
I don’t mean to lessen your enjoyment should you get to see a mink in the wild. Regardless of the back story, such a sighting will still make your day.