Mink Teeth

Written by Kathryn Koehler
Published: June 24, 2023
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Mink, the sleek and elusive creatures known for their luxurious fur, possess a hidden treasure within their jaws: their teeth. Often overlooked, mink teeth are a fascinating subject that unveils insights into the unique adaptations and remarkable capabilities of these remarkable animals. From their razor-sharp incisors to their finely serrated molars, mink teeth serve as formidable tools for their survival. So, let’s delve into the captivating world of mink dentition, exploring their anatomy, functions, and the intriguing secrets they hold.

Neovison vison skull (the American mink), a semiaquatic species of mustelid native to North America.

From their razor-sharp incisors to their finely serrated molars, mink teeth serve as both formidable tools for survival.

©Guillermo Guerao Serra/Shutterstock.com

What is a Mink?

The American mink (Mustela vision), is a species of semi-aquatic mammal belonging to the Mustelidae family. American minks have long, slender bodies with short legs. They are relatively small mammals, measuring 12-20 inches (30-50 cm) long, excluding the tail. The mink has a long, bushy tail, which is approximately one-third of its body length. The tail serves as a propulsive organ when swimming.

The fur of the American mink is dense, soft, and lustrous, in a variety of colors. The head of the American mink is small and narrow. It features a pointed snout, rounded ears, and small, dark eyes. The muzzle is usually lighter in color compared to the rest of the body. American minks are native to North America and can be found across a broad range, including Canada, the United States, and parts of Mexico. They typically inhabit areas near bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes, and wetlands. Minks are primarily nocturnal, solitary animals. They are skilled hunters, preying on a variety of aquatic and terrestrial animals, including fish, amphibians, small mammals, birds, and crustaceans.

young mink on a log

The fur of the American mink is dense, soft, and lustrous, in a variety of colors.

©Aleksandra Saveljeva/Shutterstock.com

The Dental Formula

The dental formula is a standardized method to describe the arrangement and number of teeth in the mouths of mammals. It provides a concise representation of the teeth in each half of the upper and lower jaws, allowing for easy comparison and classification of different species based on their dentition.
The dental formula is typically written as a series of numbers and symbols, representing the number and type of teeth in each quadrant of the mouth. A quadrant refers to one-fourth of the mouth, either the left or right side of the upper or lower jaw. The dental formula is usually written in the order of incisors, canines, premolars, and molars. The numbers in the dental formula must be multiplied by 2 to arrive at the total number of teeth contained within the four quadrants. The dental formula provides a standardized way to describe dentition in mammals, facilitating comparisons and classification across species. By examining variations in the dental formula, research scientists can gain insights into an animal’s diet, evolutionary relationships, and functional adaptations of their teeth.

Mink Teeth – Milk Teeth

After a gestation period of 40-75 days, female minks give birth to a litter of up to 10 kits. The kits are born blind and hairless but quickly develop and become independent within a few months. Part of their independence comes in the form of deciduous, or milk teeth. Mink kits have a total of 28 deciduous, or baby teeth:

  • Deciduous Incisors: 3 × 2 = 6
  • Deciduous Canines: 1 × 2 = 2
  • Deciduous Premolars: 3 × 2 = 6

Since the dental formula represents one side of the mouth, the total number of deciduous teeth in a mink’s mouth would be 14 × 2 = 28. Mink kits typically begin to hunt for themselves when they are 8-10 weeks old. At this stage, they start transitioning from relying on their mother’s milk to exploring solid food sources in their environment. During this critical period of development, mink kits utilize their baby teeth, which start erupting at approximately 2 weeks of age.

These temporary teeth serve multiple purposes for the growing kits. First and foremost, they aid in the consumption of prey by allowing them to tear and chew small portions of food. Additionally, the deciduous teeth play a crucial role in the kits’ jaw and muscle development, as they provide the necessary stimulation for proper growth. As the kits continue to mature, their deciduous teeth are gradually replaced by permanent adult teeth, enabling them to become more proficient hunters in the wild.

American mink

Mink kits are born blind and hairless but quickly develop and become independent within a few months.

©An inspiration/Shutterstock.com

Mink Permanent Teeth

By the time they are 1-2 months old, the American mink has a full set of permanent teeth. American minks have a total of 34 permanent teeth, as follows:
Upper jaw:

  • Incisors (3/3): 3 × 2 = 6
  • Canines (1/1): 1 × 2 = 2
  • Premolars (3/3): 3 × 2 = 6
  • Molars (1/2): 1 × 2 = 2

Lower jaw:

  • Incisors (3/3): 3 × 2 = 6
  • Canines (1/1): 1 × 2 = 2
  • Premolars (3/3): 3 × 2 = 6
  • Molars (1/2): 2

Total from both jaws: 6 (Upper incisors) + 2 (Upper canines) + 6 (Upper premolars) + 2 (Upper molars) + 6 (Lower incisors) + 2 (Lower canines) + 6 (Lower premolars) + 2 (Lower molars) = 34. Much like their kits, adult minks use their teeth to attack, kill, and consume prey.

Mink Teeth: Incisors

Incisors are the teeth found in the front of the mouth in most mammals, including minks. They are characterized by their thin, sharp edges. Incisors play a primary role in the initial stages of food processing. Their sharp edges are well-suited for biting and tearing apart prey. Incisors are also involved in prehension, which is the act of grasping and holding prey. Incisors contribute to the overall development and alignment of the jaw structure. The presence and proper alignment of incisors help to maintain the proper occlusion (bite) and ensure the growth and development of the jawbones.

Mink Teeth: Canines

Canines, also known as cuspids or eyeteeth, are the pointed, relatively long teeth found on either side of the incisors in mammalian dentition. Canines have a pointed shape and sharp edge, making them well-suited for piercing and tearing prey. They are particularly adapted for grasping and tearing flesh. In minks, the canines are highly developed and serve as prominent weapons for capturing and killing prey.
Canines also contribute to the process of mastication (chewing) by working in conjunction with other teeth. When the upper and lower canines come together, they create a shearing action that helps cut and slice through food. This function is particularly useful in tearing tough flesh or breaking down food into smaller, more digestible pieces.

Mink Teeth: Premolars

The premolars, also known as bicuspids, are the teeth located between the canines and molars. Premolars are larger and flatter than canines. They have two pointed cusps or bumps on their biting surfaces. Their main function is to assist in grinding and crushing food. Bicuspids work in conjunction with the canines and molars to break down food particles and prepare them for swallowing.

Mink Teeth: Molars

Molars are the large, flat teeth found at the back of the mouth. They are characterized by their broad chewing surfaces, with multiple cusps and ridges. Molars play a crucial role in the mastication (chewing) and processing of food. Molars are specifically adapted for grinding and crushing food. Their large, flat surfaces, along with the multiple cusps and ridges, allow for the effective breakdown of food particles. Molars work in coordination with the tongue and other teeth to chew and grind food into smaller, more manageable pieces, facilitating digestion. Finally, the presence and proper alignment of molars contribute to the growth and development of the jawbones. Molars help stimulate bone growth and maintain the overall structure and integrity of the jaw.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Guillermo Guerao Serra/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Kathryn Koehler is a writer at A-Z-Animals where her focus is on unusual animals, places, and events. Kat has over 20 years of experience as a professional writer and educator. She holds a master's degree from Vanderbilt University. When she is not writing for A-Z-Animals, Kat enjoys puttering in her garden, baking deliciously healthful treats for her family, and playing with her two rescue mutts, Popcorn and Scooter. She resides in Tennessee.

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