Methods for the identification of farm escapees in feral mink (Neovison vison) populations

Sussie Pagh*, Cino Pertoldi, Heidi Huus Petersen, Trine Hammer Jensen, Mette Sif Hansen, Sussi Madsen, David Chr. Evar Kraft, Niels Iversen, Peter Roslev, Mariann Chriél

*Corresponding author for this work

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In Denmark, American mink (Neovison vison) have been bred for their fur since the mid-1920s. Mink escaping from farms may supply the feral population. Often, it is of biological and management interest to separate the population of feral mink (i.e. mink caught in the wild) in two groups: 1) mink born on farms i.e., escapees, and 2) mink born in the wild. In this study, two methods were used for separating feral mink into the two groups: a) Comparison of body length of farmed mink and feral mink, and b) Presence of a biomarker (tetracycline: an oral antibiotic used on mink farms). A total of 367 wild caught mink (from the mainland of Denmark and the island of Bornholm), and 147 mink from farms, collected during the period 2014–2018, were used for the analysis of body length. For the testing of tetracycline (TC) as a biomarker, 78 mink from farms where there was knowledge about TC treatment (with or without) were examined for fluorescent markings in the canine teeth. Results from both univariate analyses and Gaussian mixture model analysis demonstrated clear divisions between the mean body length (mean ± S.E., range) of farmed males (52.1 cm ± 0.4, 48–68) and farmed females (mean 44.0 ± 0.2, 40–50), and between farmed mink and wild caught mink. Mixture analysis identified two groups within each sex of the wild caught mink, one assigned to farmed mink (born in captivity) and another group of smaller mink suspected of being born in the wild. On Bornholm, the mean (±SD, range) length of males born in the wild was 43.7cm (± 0.3, 36–57) and for females 37.5cm (± 0.3, 32–45). The mean length (±SD, range) of males born in the wild in the mainland of Denmark was 42.5cm (± 2.3, 36–46) and for females 36.1cm (± 1.0, 34–37). Among the feral mink from mainland Denmark, 28.4% of males and 21.6% of females were identified as escapees, while 0% of the males and 1% of the females were identified as escapees among the wild caught mink on Bornholm. Eight percent of mink from farms using tetracycline were false negatives, while no false positives were found among mink from farms not using TC. TC fluorescence was found in five of 217 mink caught in the wild equivalent to 22% escapees in mainland Denmark. No TC markings were found in mink caught in the wild on Bornholm. In conclusion, both methods a) the body length of mink, and b) fluorescent biomarkers in canine teeth are considered as useful tools to identifing mink that have escaped from farms.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0224559
JournalP L o S One
Issue number11
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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