Meet my cool cousins.
One thing we all have in common is a set of glands that make smelly stuff called musk. Now, you know what Odora Skunk (another cousin, by the way) does with her musk. PEE-U! Well, minks can also make a pretty good stink when danger threatens. And all my cousins rub musk on trees and other places to say, "I've been here, and this is my space!"
I'll start by telling you about my cousins the minks. They're a lot smaller and, uh, slimmer than I am. Most of my cousins are like that--long and slender. It's a great shape for poking around in narrow burrows and tunneling in snow to catch prey. (But it's not so great for digging dirt fast. For that, you've got to be broad and stocky--like me!)
Another cool thing about minks is that they have super-thick, oily fur. The thickness helps keep them warm and dry. And the oil helps them shed water. Even in the middle of winter, minks are always in and out of the water--if it isn't frozen solid. Brrr!
Minks live along streams and lakes or in swamps and marshes. Some even hang out on rocky coasts. They're great swimmers. Webs of skin between their toes help them paddle. They're also good at diving for lunch under water. You name it, they nab it--fish, frogs, salamanders, crayfish, shellfish, and water insects.
Minks also find lunch on land. They snoop in ducks' nests, and they scare up mice, voles, rabbits, ground squirrels, or snakes. Then it's the old pounce, crunch, gulp--if they're lucky.
Sound easy? Well, I think my cousins and I deserve gold medals. Being a predator is hard work. After many hours of hunting, we may finally find a catchable critter. And then it may escape anyway.
But I gotta tell you, minks can be pretty clever. Sometimes they hunt and kill muskrats. Then they take over the muskrats' waterside burrows to use for their own dens. Way to go, cousins! With a blanket of snow on top, these dens make super-snug winter hideouts. Often minks stay inside--away from the cold winter air--for days.
Now, who's next?
Check out this fine pine marten (top photo). It's high in a spruce tree, eyeing a tasty squirrel! For these mink-sized cousins, climbing trees is a breeze. Martens have sharp claws and can turn their hind feet halfway around to hang from a tree trunk--just as a squirrel can.
Even though martens can climb about in trees, they spend most of their time on the ground. They zigzag through northern evergreen forests, on the look-out, listen-out, and sniff-out for a meal. Like most of my cousins, martens aren't picky eaters. They'll go for voles, mice, tree squirrels, ground squirrels, hares, beetles, and even berries.
And when snow is on the ground, martens go right under it. They tunnel around, looking for food or a good spot to rest. On sunny days, these climbing cousins often lie on tree limbs, soaking up winter rays. I sure can relate to that!
Is that another marten nibbling on those red fruits? (See bottom photo.) Nope, too big. And it doesn't have that pointy-eared, fox- like face. It's a different cousin, a fisher. Fishers live in northern forests too.
See the fisher's big feet? They help my cousin move on top of snow. But when the snow is soft and deep, getting around and finding prey can be tough.
When hunting is good, fishers chow on snowshoe hares, birds and eggs, squirrels, voles, garter snakes, and even carrion (meat of dead animals). But get this--they don't eat fish! How people came up with the name "fisher," I don't know.
Tricking Prickly Porkies
Fishers can be tricky hunters. They're one of the few predators that can nab porcupines. How do they do it?
When they find a porky, they try to dart in and bite its face. Then they dart away so they won't get swatted by the porky's tail. If the porky doesn't escape, they just keep on doing this--biting its face and darting away--until they kill their prickly prey. Then they flip the dead porky over and go for its belly, where there are no quills.
Now I'll tell you about wolverines. They're rarer than the other cousins I've talked about. Wolverines live in some of the roughest, wildest country around. Not only do they like forests, but they also hang out on high mountains and near glaciers.
Wolverines are one of my largest cousins. They grow to be about three feet (1 m) long, and they look like small bears. Their broad feet act like snowshoes to help them cruise along on top of deep snow. And I'm not the only cousin with big claws. Take a look at those digging and climbing tools on the wolverine!
I hate to admit it, but wolverines may be stronger than we badgers are. They can flip over rocks, tear open logs, and run nonstop for 40 miles (64 km). Sometimes they even kill large prey like moose, caribou, and mountain goats.
Don't get the wrong idea, though. Wolverines may be tough, but usually the big animals they eat were killed by other predators. For example, the hungry wolverine in the photo shown here is gnawing on a deer leg it found.
Wolverines' super-keen noses lead them to the carrion. Then their strong jaws and big teeth go to work. They can even crush bones and hoofs and chomp down thick hides--the way hyenas in Africa do.
Wolverines also like to gobble down birds and eggs, dig up ground squirrels, and munch on berries or even wasp nests. Ouch!
Hiding and Swiping
Sometimes a wolverine kills more food than it can eat right away. Then it buries the extra food--or hides it up in a tree--to eat later. This hidden food is called a cache (CASH).
A wolverine doesn't hide just its own food. It also swipes and hides other animals' kills and caches, including those of coyotes and mountain lions. You may not believe this--one wolverine I know had a cache of 20 foxes and 100 birds!
That's all for now, folks. But I'm already getting excited about next year's family reunion. It should be even bigger--with weasels and ferrets and polecats and many more cousins to brag about!