The Smell of New Competitors: The Response of American Mink, Mustela vison, to the Odours of Otter, Lutra lutra and Polecat, M. putorius


Lauren A. Harrington, WildCRU, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Tubney House, Abingdon Road, Tubney, Oxon OX13 5QL, UK.


We tested the response of wild American mink (an established alien species in the UK), to the odours of unfamiliar mink, European polecat and Eurasian otter. Polecats are similar in size and habits to mink, otters are larger than mink and a dominant competitor; both are native to the UK and both were absent during the original colonization by mink but are now undergoing natural population recoveries. The response of mink to experimental odours was assessed by counting the numbers of tracks (footprints) on rafts treated with anal gland secretions, and compared with response to a control raft, on two rivers in the Upper Thames valley, UK. Remote video showed that the number of tracks was positively correlated with the time that mink spent investigating an odour. We found that mink were attracted to the odours of both unfamiliar mink and polecats. There was little evidence that mink avoided the odour of otters. We suggest that, during an encounter with a polecat, mink may behave much as they would to a conspecific. We infer from the response of mink to the odour of otters, that, if mink do avoid otters, the mechanism of avoidance is likely to be complex, situation-dependent and perhaps affected by prior experience.