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Northern River Otter vs. American Mink

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otter running behind tree at Radnor Lake, near South Cove trail

Mink are sometimes confused with otters. The most obvious difference is size; the mink is slightly smaller than a domestic cat, while an otter is considerably larger — closer in size to a medium-sized dog.

The tails differ as well. Otters have a stout tapering tail, horizontally flattened, whilst mink have a more cylindrical and somewhat bushier tail.

In coloration, mink are usually dark chocolate brown with a while chin patch; an otter’s coat is mid-brown, with a paler throat and chest.

illustration of mink vs. polecat vs otter

14 Comments

  1. Here in Oregon that critter is an otter. One reason I’m sure is that as far as I know there are no wild mink in the state. Your illustrations are accurate in that an otter is much larger than the caged mink I have seen where they were being raised for the fur. We have skunks but no pole-
    cats. sl

  2. There are absolutely wild mink throughout Oregon

  3. Pingback: Another Close Look: Mink vs. Otter

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  5. 7/15/11 We are on Lake St George in Maine for the summer. Last night we watched 6 playful animals play in and around the rocks at the lakes edge.. They were as interested in us as we were with them. I thought they were young otters but heard from a relative that they are probably mink. We have not spotted them before abd have been on the lake summers for over 30 years

  6. Thanks for the website. We thought we saw otters at Lake Michigan but they were really minks catching crabs amongst the rocks. They were funny to watch and they enjoyed watching us as well.

  7. Last year and this year while fishing the South Umqua River I saw a mink in the same area hunting the river bank. My friend and I in my boat traveled about 30 feet away and folowed it for about 100 feet. We got a very good look at it. I called Oregon fish and game and they confirmed that we have wild mink in Oregon.

  8. i know for a fact we have minks up here in maryland. i have seen them up in the woods where i hunt. they can be very protective and stubborn but if they dont know your watching them they are very playful running and jumping around the forest.

  9. Just to confirm the presence or absence of mink in the Northwest, I spotted one in the Scablands of Eastern Washington last year in and around a creek. We were in a fairly remote area. It was seen swimming in the creek along the banks well vegetated edge and disappeared into its cover. I felt pretty lucky to see it, but then again, I am a transplant from the burbs. I digress…

  10. We live in Independence Oregon along Ash Creek. We have an extremely great view from our living room looking down on the creek. We have seen both River Otters and Mink and the size and tail are obvious. We also have Nutria, Beaver, Opossom, Skunks and of course Raccoons. I have seen both the River Otter and Mink multiple time and during different seasons. I saw the Mink about 15 minutes ago and just the other day both swimming and on land.

    There are Mink in Oregon:)

  11. Febuary 24 2013 in Hunter New York.I have several very nice pictures of him or her with foot tracks….been hanging around for a week now….lucky me!

  12. We see American Mink in Oregon quite often. They are very common in creeks and rivers in the Willamette Valley. Otter can be found here too but they are WAY bigger and very easy to distinguish from mink.

  13. I saw a solid black mink today. We live in the willamette valley Oregon. First time I have seen a mink around here. It was running along the bridge. I was able to get pretty close and take some pictures before it went back down to the water. So cute and super soft looking!

  14. Just saw two mink in the Umatilla River just five blocks west of Main Street!

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