Colors of Mink
A Rainbow of Choices
As with developing an appreciation for the different colors and varieties of fine wines or diamonds, consumers can become just as discerning when choosing a mink garment or trim – choosing from an amazing spectrum of colors.
The time, effort and energy which go into developing so many color phases of mink is little understood by the consumer. In the wild, mink come in colors ranging from tawny brown to a brown so deep it’s almost black. 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.
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.
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.
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 Neogale 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.
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
Silver Blue Cross
Blackness of Fur
Pale and light shade with a pink cast
Shade should range from medium dark to dark
Clear to blue
Light to medium shade (either blue or beige is okay)
Shade ranging from medium dark
Both clear and casty types acceptable
Contrast Very desirable
Shade should be dark end
Clear to blue
Clear in color
Pale and light shade with brightness
Shade should range from light medium to medium dark
A clear blue color is very desirable
Very clear with no yellows
Shade ranges from light medium to medium
Red castiness very good
Christensen, Knud Molecular genetic basis for melanin production, Royal Veterinary & Agricultural University, Copenhagen, Dept. of Animal Science and Animal Health, Division of Genetics and Breeding, Bülowsvej 13, 1870 Frederiksberg C, Denmark.
Nes, N., Einarsson, J., Lohi, O., Jarosz, S., Scheelje, R. 1988. Beautiful Fur Animals and Their Color Genetics, Scientifur, 60 Langagervij, DK-2600 Glostrup, Denmark.
Joergensen, G. 1985. Mink Production, Scientifur, 60 Langagervij, DK-2600 Glostrup, Denmark.
Shackelford, Richard M. Genetics of The Ranch Mink (Pilsbury Publishers, Inc. in cooperation with Black Fox Magazine, 1950)
Trenholm, B.L. Genetics of Mink Coat Color, Livestock and Livestock Feed Branch, N.B. Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Trenholm, B.L. Genetics Of Fox Fur Color, Animal Industry Branch, N.B. Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Joergensen, G. “Mink Production”, Wonderful A-Z ranch mink production encyclopedia. Available from Klubertanz Equipment Co. in US, and Nairn Enterprises in Canada. (Scientifur, Hilleroed, Denmark; 1985; ISBN: 87-981959-05)