True Colors!

In the wild, mink come in colors ranging from tawny brown to a brown so deep it’s almost black. The common red fox can also deliver a silver-colored natural surprise, a “mutation” and the gray fox is a near relative of the red. The beautiful Arctic fox changes color for camouflage; a white winter coat darkens to gray for the warm months.

On the farm, it’s different. Recessive and dominant genes carry standard colors from generation to generation but breeding and cross breeding of naturally occurring mutations (color changes) has resulted in farmed animals in colors never seen in nature. This spectrum of color combinations is called color phases but it’s a furry rainbow for the true connoisseur of fur.By understanding the role genetics play in the coloration of fur, farmers can selectively breed the animals for desired standard colors, and mutant color phases in a selection of tones or hues.

White Pearl Silver Blue Cross
Sapphire Cross Palomino Cross Dawn Cross
Pastel Cross Black Cross Silver Blue
Sapphire Palomino Topal
Dawn Pastel Scanglow
Scanbrown Scanback

 

It’s All in the Genes

Genes exist in pairs located on chromosomes, which in turn are located in the nuclei of cells. Genes in egg and sperm cells are single since only one member of each pair of chromosomes is passed on to each reproductive cell. When fertilization occurs, the chromosomes, and thus the genes, become paired again; one member of the gene pair comes from one parent and one member comes from the other parent. Which gene is recessive and which is dominant determines the color of the offspring.Genes exist in pairs located on chromosomes, which in turn are located in the nuclei of cells. Genes in egg and sperm cells are single since only one member of each pair of chromosomes is passed on to each reproductive cell. When fertilization occurs, the chromosomes, and thus the genes, become paired again; one member of the gene pair comes from one parent and one member comes from the other parent. Which gene is recessive and which is dominant determines the color of the offspring.

Color Is Expressed through Pigmentation

Mink and fox are mammals, and as in all mammals, color is expressed through pigmentation, primarily due to the presence of melanin. Melanin is synthesized, or created, in specialized cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes come from a population of cells, called the neural crest, that is located on the dorsal mid-line (the backbone area) of the early embryo.

There are two related types of melanin: Eumelanin which causes a brown or black color and phaeomelanin which causes a yellow or red color. In the hair, melanin is found in minute pigment granules. The genetics of coat color are largely concerned with the genes that affect the number, shape, arrangement or position of these granules, or the type of melanin they contain.

Wild to Farmed Mink

The mink is a member of the Mustelid family, a group of carnivorous mammals of small to medium size with well-developed scent glands. The mustelids include 67 species of 23 genera from all regions of the world and include the common marten, weasel, polecat and skunk. Most mustelids are known for their long, supple body and are excellent burrowers, climbers and swimmers. The mustelids have well developed anal scent glands and use the secretions for marking territory and some use the scent as a defensive mechanism.

To better understand the range and subspecies of mink, one must look back at scientific records. The Hudson’s Bay Company, founded in 1670, developed a grading system, dividing Canada into 16 areas, and within each of these areas the fur type was described. Early accounts going back to 1777 mention 11 different mink “races” in North America, and by 1930 at least five were classed taxonomically as subspecies of Mustela vison, commonly called American mink, and now renamed Neovison vison.

Farmed mink are now considered domesticated animals, having been raised on farms since 1866, the first being in upstate New York. The three main subspecies that contributed their gene pool to farmed mink include: Mustela vison vison (Quebec, Eastern Labrador and Nova Scotia), Mustela vison ingens (Alaska), and Mustela vison melampeplus (Kenai). Today, it is impossible to differentiate the farmed mink according to the original wild subspecies, so they are generally called descendents of Neovison vison and commonly known as domesticated or farm-raised mink.

If mink are bred on farms for their natural brown colors, they are called “black” mink, while if they are bred for colors other than the standard brown, they are called a “color type” mink and named for their particular color phase.

Mink Rainbows

In 1931, a “silverblue” or “platinum” color mink was documented on a farm in Arpin, Wisconsin owned by W. Whittingham. In May 1944, personal correspondence from a Harry La Due stated, “I have seen white mink, silver sable and pastel mink on farms as early as 1929.” In 1937, a Winnipeg farm owned by M. Pirt had an albino male mink and a Lillie Herper was breeding albinos in the U.S. in 1943, having bought a male and a female from Canada. By 1943, an entire coat was produced from albino mink pelts.By 1944, silverblue (platinum) mink pelts were sold at auction in New York and topped Russian sable, for a time, as the world’s most expensive fur. In the ’40s, a mink coat of silverblue (platinum) pelts sold for US$18,000! In 1947, a cream colored (palomino) mutant appeared in Karleby, Finland, while a similar color phase occurred in the U.S.

By the 40’s farmers were breeding mutants together for combination types. Sapphire was one of the first combination type colors and by as early as 1955, a combination of four recessive genes was produced, “Oregon gold” it was called by the proud farmer.

By 1950, a brown mutant with a reddish to mahogany color (pastel) existed on about five U.S. farms.

Dr. R.M. Shackelford, at the University of Wisconsin, was a leader in working out breeding plans which enabled farmers in the U.S. and Canada to raise many of these various mink color types.

In the 1960s, a white mink with black spots appeared in Finland on Petsmo’s mink farm and Boren’s mink farm . This variation became known as a “jaguar type” of mink.

When grading a live mink or a pelt, an expert will look for the following in each color category:

Black
  • Blackness of fur
  • Overall appearance
Mahoganies
  • Shade ranging from medium to medium dark
  • Both clear and casty type acceptable
  • Contrast very desirable
Pearls
  • Pale and light shade with brightness
Blue Iris
  • Shade should range from light medium to medium dark
  • A clear blue color is very desirable
  • Strong contrast
Sapphires
  • Shade should be dark end
  • Clear to blue
Pinks
  • Pale and light shade with a pink cast
Demi Buff
  • Shade should range from medium dark to dark
  • Clear to blue
  • Contrast desirable
Violets
  • Medium shade
  • Clear
Whites
  • Very clear with no yellows
Ranch Wild
  • Shade ranges from light medium to medium
  • Red castiness very good
  • Contrast desirable
Pastels
  • Dark shade
  • Clear in color
Lavenders
  • Light to medium shade (either blue or beige is okay)