Cornelius’ Corner: “Mink Like Fishing, Too!”
On April 1st we celebrated Opening Day for the 2023 Pennsylvania Trout Fishing Season! In case you didn’t know, trout are big deal here in the park. We have a long history of trout fishing, basically since we became a park in 1960. Each year, my coworkers host an Opening Day Breakfast for the members of our fly fishing club, and we all come together to enjoy yummy sticky buns and share fish tales.
It turns out that humans aren’t the only ones who like to go fishing in the park. This year, we had an unexpected participant in Opening Day – an American Mink! It was spotted hunting in the creek just upstream of the Log Cabin by Trustees Lucy Bell and Johannes Jarka-Sellers, who volunteer each year to cook breakfast for the fishing members. Unfortunately, it swam away so fast that they were not able to ask the Mink if it had the necessary trout license and stream fishing club membership!
American Mink are semiaquatic mammals in family Mustelidae, which means they are essentially weasels that like to swim! They have long bodies, short legs, and a long tail, in addition to partially webbed feet for swimming. They are typically dark brown or black, with a small white patch on their chin. Because they are so well adapted to water, Mink are usually seen living along the edges of wetlands, lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers. They especially like areas with lots of trees and dense brush.
Don’t let their small size fool you – Mink are excellent hunters! They love to eat fish, but they will also hunt for small mammals, frogs, birds, rabbits, insects, crayfish, and even muskrats. When they are young, they are sometimes hunted by larger predators like hawks, coyotes, and foxes. However, the adults are so stealthy and well-camouflaged that they can avoid those threats.
My coworkers have only been seeing Mink in the park for the last year or so. The coolest thing about seeing them in the park again is that it tells us about the health of our waterways! First, it shows that there is lots of food and shelter available for them to survive. Less obvious, though, is the fact that they need the cleanest water to thrive. As top predators, they are impacted by potential toxins found in the foods they eat. Waterways full of legacy pollution like PCPs or mercury limit their ability to reproduce successfully. So if you are seeing lots of Minks, it means the water is nice and clean!
They are usually solitary and most often seen hunting in the early morning or evening, and they are often seen hunting both on land and in the water. Here in the park, we’ve mostly been seeing them along the stretch of creek between the Log Cabin and the Dam. They seem to find good hunting around those boulders!
If you see a Mink in the park, my coworkers would love to hear about it. You can stop by the Visitor Center to report it your sighting location, or send an email to our naturalist Jessica at email@example.com.
And if you do come into the Visitor Center, don’t forget to say hi to your friendly neighborhood corn snake!