Common Names: Pine Marten or American Sable
Species: Martes americana
The American Marten is a small, long bodied, furry mammal that is similar to a mink in body shape. It has short legs with large paws that each have five digits that are well suited for climbing. It’s fur is normally brown, with shades ranging from dark auburn to very light brown. The face and underside of the body, however, are usually much lighter in color. Distinguishing features of the marten include the long body with a long bushy tail, small rounded ears and a pointed nose. Males are usually between 55cm and 68cm in length, and females range between 49cm and 60cm. The average weight of a marten is between one and four pounds, which in comparison is about the size of a small cat. Males are usually the heavier sex and are sometimes twice the size of females. Often their cute and cuddly appearance gives the impression that marten are tame, docile animals, but they are not. In actual fact, marten are quite effective predators. They have an insatiable curiosity and appetite, which can get them in trouble sometimes. Also, the marten has paired large anal scent glands and abdominal glands which are characteristic of the family. The glands are rubed on rocks and logs during the mating season. All members have one upper molar and two lower teeth, as well as developed carnassial teeth. Marten are primarily nocturnal mammals, but are often active during the day.
Distribution and Habitat Requirements:
The American Marten can be found in most areas of Canada. British Columbia has a healthy population, Newfoundland has pine marten on the west coast, and there are several areas in New Brunswick that are populated by marten, the north- central highlands near the little southwest Mirimachi River being one example. Marten are common in northern New Brunswick and are rarely seen in southern New Brunswick. Marten have been introduced into the southern part of New Brunswick around Fundy, but the effort hasn’t been very sucessful. In 1984-1993, fifty marten were released over nine years in Wiildlife Management Zone 23. Marten were known to prefer mature to overmature coniferous forests of pine, fir and spruce trees. These older forests have an abundance of fallen and rotting trees and logs which are excellent for building nests and providing shelter. New research has shown, however, that marten can live in younger or mixed generations of forests.
Marten eat a wide variety of things. Squirrels, rabbits, birds, mice, voles, eggs, berries, seeds, honey, insects, carrion, fungi, and other small mammals is basically what their diet consists of. When food, like rabbits for example, is scarce during the winter, marten will eat just about anything. It is during the winter that their choice of habitat comes into play. Marten will hunt under snow drifts and around fallen trees and logs. Small mammals such as mice and rabbits are known to take refuge in these areas.
Territory size, or home range size, is variable and depends on a number of factors. Body size, food availability, and the prescence of fallen trees are just some of the factors that determine how large a martens home range will be. A martens weight or body size is a prominent factor for many reasons. A large home range will require a large amount of energy to defend and traverse. A larger marten would be better suited for this. The availability of food is also a major factor. Marten have to adjust the size of their home range such that there is enough food, and is not to large to maintain efficiently. This can be a difficult task and may even be detrimental to a marten in harsh conditions such as winter. The number of fallen trees and logs in the area also has a role in determining the size of the home range. These trees provide shelter, nesting areas and sites for hunting, especially in winter. Males have larger home ranges and tend to be more territorial then females. Males will shift their range to occupy a better area more readily then females will. Also, females have the highly energetic cost of pregnancy. This is one of the most important factors in determining their home range. They have to be able to sustain a pregnancy, maintain their territory and build a nest. Nest sites remain fixed, which limits a females ability to shift their home range.
Males and females only associate with each other during the months of July and August. They are solitary for the rest of the year. During the following March or April a litter of two to four young are born. The young are rasied in nests that are lined with grass. Nests are made in hollow trees or logs usually. The young weigh about 25-30 g at birth and are blind and deaf. After 26 days their ears open, their eyes after 39 days. Young females don’t normally bear young until they are three years of age.
Marten are well adapted to life in the trees. They are exceptional climbers and can even climb down a tree head first. This seems odd since a lot of their time is spent on the ground hunting. Also, in winter they develop hair on their feet which causes them to leave different tracks. One interesting behaviour that marten exhibit is that when they are in distress, like being caught in a rabbit snare, for example, they roll over and over as opposed to some other behaviour.
Problems the Marten is Facing:
The American marten is now protected. They were once killed for their pelts, but are now facing other problems. Logging is a major contributor in the loss of marten habitat. Logging companies targeting mature and overmature forests can wipe out a martens habitat in a very short time span. It has only been discovered recently that some marten are surviving in younger forests. Forest fires and infestations, by the Spruce Budworm for example, also contribute to the destruction of marten habitat. Another pressing issue is the number of marten killed in rabbit snares. This problem is not as big of issue in New Brunswick as it is in Newfoundland. The combination of martens curious nature and rabbit snares being left in the forest has proven to be lethal. Recent modification of rabbit snares has proven to increase a martens chances of escape and survival if they are caught in a snare. Also, the modification does not affect the snares ability to kill rabbits.