Wildlife: Mink are common but seldom seen

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Sometimes wildlife seem as curious about people as we are about them. I often spot deer watching me from the edge of the woods. When I see a fox, it's usually watching me from a thicket of dense vegetation.

Once I was fishing and, between catching fish and watching a territorial belted kingfisher, my eyes did not wander. When I took a break for lunch, I noticed a mink on the opposite bank watching me intently. I don't know how long it had been there, but when our eyes met, the mink bolted downstream. Its size (almost 2 feet in length), long tubular body, short legs, dark chestnut pelage and loping gait told me it was a mink. Eventually it disappeared into a maze of roots under a giant sycamore.

Another time I was sitting on a stone bridge in southeastern Pennsylvania. As I turned my head to see a screaming red-tailed hawk overhead, a linear form caught my eye on the road. A mink was watching me. Again, as soon as our eyes met, it took off in that distinctive back-bending gait.

I doubt that in either case the mink was actually watching me. It was more likely a coincidence that we caught each other in mid-glance. But often that's all we get with wildlife, especially species that are primarily nocturnal and secretive.

Mink are probably more common than they appear based upon casual observations. Members of the weasel family, they are near perfect predators and eat almost anything they can catch. They live near water so fish, crayfish, frogs, snakes and turtles are favorite prey.

They also eat a variety of rodents, including much larger muskrats, which they kill with a vicious bite to the back of the skull. When muskrats are abundant, mink often use abandoned muskrat lodges as dens.

Mink fur is thick and luxurious, thanks to its dense underfur and longer courser guard hairs. In 2010, Pennsylvania trappers harvested 4,093 mink. Statewide trapping season for mink and muskrats runs Nov. 23 through Jan. 5, 2014, with no bag limits.

Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) or online at www.wvly.net. Or visit his website, www.drshalaway.com, or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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