American mink

One of the most "vicious" and rarely seen animals in North Carolina turned up this summer knee-deep in mud on a trail camera near Chapel Hill, according to N.C. Candid Critters.

"Caught the elusive American mink on camera — very exciting!" Candid Critters posted Saturday on Facebook.

The photo was taken near a small body of water in Chatham County, home of Jordan Lake State Park, the post said. The exact spot was not disclosed.

Mink -- a name synonymous with expensive animal-skin coats -- are undeniably cute furry little mammals that purr like kittens when content, experts say.

However, they're also surprisingly aggressive and "thought of as vicious," the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission warns in a report on mink.

"This (vicious) reputation has been earned by its habit of frequently killing prey larger than itself and also killing more prey than it can eat," the commission says. "When threatened, they may growl, hiss, screech or discharge a strong, musky scent from anal glands."

Scarier still, mink have "few natural enemies," state biologists say: "As a predator, mink are near the top of the aquatic food chain."

They grow to about 36 inches long, seldom weigh more than 3 pounds and will eat anything they can get their paws on, including birds and reptiles, state officials say.

Photographing one in the wild is rare and was accomplished this summer as part of a state-backed program that is placing camera traps (or trail cams) in all 100 counties.

N.C. Candid Critters says it has only seen "a few" mink since the effort was unveiled in 2016.

The program is working to collect data on all types of wildlife in the state, including finding out where invasive species are spreading and where native species are increasing or declining.

"Though they are not endangered,... mink are so secretive that they are seldom seen," the wildlife commission reports. "Few people have had the chance to see one in the wild."

Mink were once hunted extensively for their "lustrous waterproof fur," but loss of wetlands habitat is playing a bigger role in their modern decline, the commission says.

(c)2019 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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