The nature of things
IT bounds across the grass, but what is it? Too long and slinky in the body to be a cat, yet surely too small to be an otter. Too large and too dark for a weasel, but, there, in it goes, straight into the water for a swim.
Fast, fearless and in possession of businesslike claws and sharp teeth, the American mink is related to otters, weasels and ferrets and has only established itself in Britain within the past century, when various escapees from captivity discovered they could find easy food and shelter, particularly in the vicinity of lakes and riverbanks. Along the waterways, it has been far too successful a predator of native water voles, which are now scarce, but, as well as dining on assorted rodents, mink are opportunistic carnivores, partial to fish, crustaceans, birds (chiefly moorhens, coots and ducks), frogs and even rabbits.
As well as being a consummate swimmer, diving in short bursts to turn over pebbles on the riverbed or search out aquatic prey among the reeds, Neovison vison can also climb trees—yes, the odds really are stacked in favour of it being able to find a square meal somewhere, at any given time. And as they don’t hibernate, there’s a reasonable chance of spotting one in winter, when leaf cover is dramatically reduced. KBH
Illustration by Bill Donohoe