Mink and muskrat share a partnership as wetland designers. Both are common around wetlands and shallow lakes, but mink are seldom seen. Recently, mink have seen a decline in numbers due to loss of habitat. While predators often have trouble mixing with human communities, they’re also a symbol of a balanced ecosystem. While there’s no quick answer to this paradox, a closer look at minks may offer some insight to our wetlands and how we impact them.
Unlike muskrats, mink are tough to find because they’re solitary and most active at night. Ranging from Northern Canada all the way down to Florida, they’re a specialist of wetlands, marshes, streams, and shallow lakes. With their oily fur, webbed feet, and ability to dive up to 16’ deep, minks are equally adapted for hunting on land or in water. On top of swimming like a pro, they can spray like a skunk, purr like a cat, slide like an otter, bound, and even climb! When it comes to food, they eat everything from fish to crawfish, worms, and even larger prey such as rabbits, ducks, and muskrats.
Here’s where things get interesting. While muskrat keep wetlands diverse by manipulating and moving plants, spreading seeds, burrowing, and den-making, mink control muskrat’s impact by controlling their population. As the tag-team ensues, wetland plants stay diverse and productive to help the rich soils process nutrients and produce clean air and water. To reach this balance, minks prevent muskrats from wiping out the vegetation of a wetland, and from over-burrowing shorelines. Too many burrows cause shorelines to collapse, as well as raise the risk for sprained ankles. Mink also occupy old muskrat dens, which keeps muskrats on the move and less able to heavily impact a single area.
While muskrat have adapted to reproduce quickly, mink don’t have that advantage. As a predator, they’re more susceptible to bio-accumulation of contaminants that work their way up the food chain. Pollutants such as mercury and PCB’s have been shown to cause minks to go sterile, and they’re more sensitive to changes in habitat due to development. Muskrat however have shown to be quite adaptable to changes in shoreline development, docks, boats, and backyards that edge up to water.
So the question becomes, how do we want to tip the scales? How do we want to design our wetlands and water resources? That seems like a big task. Where does one even start? Have no fear – VLAWMO is here to help businesses, residents, and cities be involved while making the process convenient, educational, and even fun. Whether you’re able to build a project with help from our cost-share program, learn about how lawn care can promote clean water, adopt-a-stormdrain, or just help build awareness in your community, every action is a piece of the puzzle. Together, they all circle back to mink, muskrat, and the quality of our water resources.
– Nick Voss, VLAWMO Education and Outreach Coordinator