Cuddly critters

This little fellow was dashing along the rocks at Ogden Point Breakwater on Saturday.

Mustela vison evagor Hall is the subspecies of American mink native to Vancouver Island, according to Ian McTaggart-Cowan and Charles J. Guiguet’s classic BC Provincial Museum-published manual, The Mammals of British Columbia (1965). There’s some debate about whether the mink that can be seen around Victoria are native or are descendants of some lucky critters released by a mink rancher in Saanich awhile back.

We’re so used to seeing river otters there that it took us a minute to figure it out. Other strollers who were watching also thought it was a baby otter. Fortunately we were able to snap some photos and confirm his minkness (and it’s probably a male, because of his size): He’s a beautiful rich mink brown (surprise!), has a different shaped snout than an otter, is shorter, has more distinct ears and a shorter tail, moves really fast, etc.

Val’s ER 312A (Field Skills I) class also saw a mink at Glendale Gardens and Woodland on a field trip a couple of weeks ago. That one had an unfortunate baby bunny in its mouth: Rabbits are a favourite food of mink. These feral European rabbits are definitely NOT native to the Victoria area: Irresponsible pet owners release them, often near the University of Victoria–where they’re very cute but still do untold damage to plantings, including new plantings of native species on campus, and wreak havoc on the gardens of nearby residents. And of course they reproduce, having 5-7 litters a year, each having an average 4-5 babies. Native Cooper’s Hawks (there’s a photo below of one such taking out a starling) feast on them, keeping them somewhat under control. Some are born with lovely trees to hide in (such as the photo above showing a Bigleaf maple with 2 baby bunnies on the UVic campus).

An interesting side note about Dr. Ian McTaggart-Cowan: As of July 1, 2009, the University of Victoria School of Environmental Studies will have an endowed chair in Conservation Biology honouring Dr. McTaggart-Cowan and his contributions to conservation and ecological restoration in the province. Conservation biologist and community ecologist Brian Starzomski, who completed his doctorate at UBC and is currently on a post-doc at Dalhousie University in Halifax, will be filling that role.

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