Mink are mainly nocturnal, emerging from their dens to feed at night on a diet of small animals, including water voles, birds, frogs, molluscs, crabs, fish and insects (6). This range of prey, hunted in water, on land, in swamps and in burrows, is considerably greater than the range of more specialised mustelids like otters and weasels. This carries both costs and benefits, as a specialised hunter will be better adapted than a generalist at exploiting certain prey, but a generalist, like the mink, has the advantage of being able to hunt different prey should one type become scarce (7).
The European mink is a wanderer, occupying large home ranges of up to 15 kilometres of river, and rarely using the same den (3). The female usually stays close to the den, unless a shortage of food drives it to find another location (2). The European mink leads a solitary lifestyle, except during the breeding season, from February to March (8), when it seeks out a mate using a repertoire of sounds from hisses and screams to chuckling calls. Males first seek out the females whose territories overlap their own, before searching further afield (7).
Mating in the European mink is often preceded by very aggressive encounters between the two sexes. The females’ gestation period is between five and ten weeks, with the birth occurring in the spring when there is an abundance of food and shelter (2). The female European mink will give birth to between two and seven young per litter and raises them alone in a den, suckling them for five to six weeks (5). Mink are born blind and helpless, and so depend on the female until they are weaned at about 10 weeks, leaving the den after 12 to 18 weeks. This species reaches maturity after one year, and lives for about 6 years in the wild and up to 12 years in captivity (2).