Monday, August 24, 2015

New Jersey Furbearers

American mink
Despite the title of an online article, "The American Mink, one of N.J.’s most common semi-aquatic carnivore," I myself (and I suspect many readers) have never seen a mink in my Jersey travels. The mink (Mustela vison) is native to the state, although it is thought that escapees from mink farms have interbred with wild mink.

The mink is not threatened in the state and has a stable population. Not threatened, unless you consider that The New Jersey Hunting and Trapping Digest lists raccoon, skunk, opossum, weasel, mink, muskrat, red and gray fox, coyote, beaver, otter and nutria as species that have open seasons for trapping in the State of New Jersey. (In New Jersey, a Trapper Education course must be passed and a trapping license obtained to trap in the state - see http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/trapping_info.htm)

Several of these species were not here historically or disappeared and have only returned through re-introductions.

Native to NJ are the river otter (Lontra canadensis), long-tailed (Mustela frenata) and short-tailed ermine (Mustela ermine). Also native are the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), raccoon (Procyon lotor) or gray fox (Urocyon cinereorgenteus).

Coyotes, which are now being reported with more frequency in the state, were never present in New Jersey until the past fifty or so years. Their appearance is due to many factors including habitat loss in their previous area of habitation. The current theory is that overall movement (based on DNA sampling) in the last century by the western coyote to the midwest, Great Lake states and through Lower Canada led to some western coyotes mating with gray wolves. Their offspring moved further eastward through Lower Canada and down through the New England states and into the Mid-Atlantic States.

NJ had gray wolves in the state until about the mid-1850s. Today, there are no wolves in New Jersey outside of zoos and preserves. But the eastern coyote appears to be here to stay.

Some of our other furbearing creatures past and present include:
  • Marten (Martes americana) historically present but extirpated since the mid-1800s
  • The fisher (Martes pennanti) also extirpated but again present in Sussex and Warren counties although few in number. Probably due to re-introduction by New York and Pennsylvania in the last decade
  • Beaver (Castor canadensis) had almost disappeared from here by the early 1800s. It is believed that some escapees from the Rutherford-Stuyvesant game preserve in Allamuchy, Warren County established a breeding population. Restocking enabled the beaver to re-establish itself by the mid-20th century. 
  • Most common to us is the raccoon which is, was and has always been a native of New Jersey and was a species that the British explorers to this new land reported, since they did not exist in Britain.
  • Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) was thought to be numerous in the central and southern part of the state in the late 1860s, but in the last hundred years the range of both opossum and raccoons has extended much further north including into Canada where they historically never existed.
opossum


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