Published on February 7, 2013 by Amy
Marten (Martes americana) are members of the family Mustelidae, which also includes wolverines, weasels and fishers. The South Slavey word for marten is “nohthee”, in North Slavey marten are “zo”, in Dogrib they are “wha” and in Gwich’in they are “tsuk”. They are also called pine marten and American marten.
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Pine martens are small, rare members of the weasel family. Their fur is soft and thick, varying in color from pale buff or yellow to reddish or dark brown. The animals’ throats are pale buff; their tails and legs are black. Two vertical black lines run above the inner corners of their eyes. In winter, long hairs grow between the toe pads on pine martens’ feet. These keep the feet warm and enable the animals to travel on snow.
Pine martens have long, bushy tails that are one-third of their total length. Like other species in the weasel family, they differ in size according to sex. The female is about three-fourths the size of the male.
Sometimes people confuse pine martens with two other members of the weasel family, fishers (Martens pennati) and stone martens (Martens foina). Fishers live in similar habitat and have similar tracks. However, they’re larger (females 20-27 inches, 4-8 pounds; males 30- 40 inches, 7-15 pounds) and darker than pine martens. Stone martens are a species native to Europe and Asia. Stone martens are 23-31 inches long (including the tail), weigh 1-4.5 pounds and are pale gray to brown with a white throat patch.
Little is known about the habits of pine martens because they’re most active at night. Unlike most members of the weasel family, pine martens (and fishers) are excellent climbers. They’ll pursue prey, such as red squirrels or chipmunks, up a tree and may climb trees to avoid danger. Martens move across the ground in a zig-zag fashion, often followed by a series of jumps. They’re solitary but curious animals.
Pine martens live in mature, dense conifer forests. They prefer woods with northern white cedar, balsam fir, spruce and eastern hemlock, especially where trees have fallen. These forests provide prey, protection and den sites. In the past, the cutting of large areas of mature conifer forests destroyed much marten habitat.
The size of a male pine marten’s territory is 5-10 square miles, while a female’s may range in size from 1-5 square miles. Pine martens generally cover their entire territory every 8-10 days as they hunt. Neither males nor females will tolerate another pine marten of the same sex in their territory. A male, however, will allow several females in his territory.
Pine martens are omnivores, feeding on a great variety of foods. Even though they’re at home in trees, they do most of their hunting on the ground. They have a high metabolism, thus require a lot of food for energy. This intense need for food makes them easy to trap.
Mice and other small rodents are martens’ primary prey, but they also eat squirrels, hares, shrews, birds, bird eggs, amphibians, reptiles, insects, fish, crayfish, nuts, fruits and carrion. In the winter, martens will tunnel under the snow in search of mice and other small mammals.
Pine martens first mate when they’re about two years old. During the July-August breeding season, martens (especially males) become quite aggressive and will fight. Courtship consists of playing and wrestling, followed by mating. Both males and females may mate with several partners during the breeding season.
Although the female marten’s eggs are fertilized by mid-summer, they don’t fasten to the wall of her uterus until January or February. The fetuses then develop quickly; young are born in late March or April, nine months after fertilization. The female makes a den in a hollow tree, stump or rock crevice, lines it with leaves, moss and other vegetation and gives birth to 2- 4 kits. The male takes no part in rearing the young.
The sparsely furred, newborn pine martens have their eyes closed. When the kits are five weeks old, their eyes open and the female begins to feed them meat. They’re weaned at 6-7 weeks and almost full-grown when three months old. The female leaves her kits soon after they’re weaned, when she’s able to mate again. Young martens may move out of their home territory in late summer or early fall to establish their own territories.
Historically, pine martens inhabited mature conifer forests of the northern United States north to treeline in Canada. Populations extended southward along the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico, the Great Lakes and the Ohio River Valley to southern Ohio.
Today, pine martens live across Canada and Alaska and in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Rocky Mountains south to Colorado and the northern parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York and the northern New England states.
As a species, pine martens are not endangered in the U.S. or Canada. In some parts of their range, however, martens have been extirpated or are endangered.