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american marten

American Marten
(Martes americana Turton)

From: Saunders, D. A. 1988. Adirondack Mammals. State University of New

Order: Carnivora

Family: Mustelidae

Description: The marten is a slender-bodied animal with short legs, and a bushy, cylindrical tail that is 14.6-23 cm (5.7-9.1 in) in length. The head is triangular with a short muzzle and conspicuous, rounded ears. The five toes of each foot possess sharp, recurved, semiretractile claws. The color of the body varies from yellowish to tawny brown except for the head which is paler and grayish. The feet, legs, and tail are brown. Irregular orange, buffy orange, or cream colored patched on the throat and chest distinguish marten from other members of the weasel family. Overall length is 51-67 cm (20-26 in). Weight varies from 0.7-1.6 kg (1.5-3.5 lb); females are smaller than males.

Range and Habitat: Formerly, the marten inhabited the forest regions of Canada,Alaska, the Northern half of the U.S. and along the major mountain ranges to central California, New Mexico, and West Virginia. Extensive trapping of this valuable furbearer, once known at the American sable, and deforestation extirpated the marten in the southern part of the range and much of the Northeast. Since 1936, when the range had shrunk from nearly all New York to the central Adirondacks, complete protection or special trapping seasons have enabled the marten to recolonize most of the Adirondacks. Although it is still most abundant in the old-growth forests of the High Peaks, the marten occurs in throughout most of the Park in coniferous and mixed forests, and even in some areas beyond the Blue Line, e.g., Tug Hill Plateau and Sable Highlands near Malone. The marten is least common or absent from some of the southeastern counties of the Adirondack Park. 

A marten usually has several dens which it occupies while traveling within its home range. These temporary dens, which may contain nests of dry plant materials, are in hollow logs and trees, under stumps or rocks, in old pileated woodpecker cavities, and occasionally under or within old buildings. Winter den sited tend to be under snow cover, for example, in stumps and hollow logs.

Food and Feeding Behavior: Wild strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, other fruit and seeds are summer and autumn foods of the omnivorous marten. However, the bulk of the diet consists of small animals. Marten prefer mice and voles, but will also eat birds and birds’ eggs, insects, reptiles, amphibians, flying squirrels, red squirrels, eastern chipmunks, moles, shrew, and snowshoe hares. The red-backed vole is an important and frequent food item. Martens hunt by searching ground cover or trees, and by bounding over or burrowing through snow.

Activity and Movement: The marten is semiaboreal, easily climbing trees to search for or chase prey, and in winter may leap out of trees from heights of 4-5 m (15 ft) or more into the snow below, bounding to a nearby tree to repeat this pattern, or to use the base of the tree as an entry to the areas beneath the snow. Activity continues throughout the year. Daily activities may be synchronized with the activity of prey. Thus, marten hunting snowshoe hares or small rodents in winter are active at night, but martens preying upon chipmunks in the summer forage during the day.

Reproduction: A female bears her annual litter of 1-5 (average 2-4) young in April or May, and mates in mid-summer. The gestation period is approximately 260-270 days, and as is typical for many mustelids, the embryos undergo a long quiescent phase with most of their development taking place during the last 25-28 days of the pregnancy. At birth, the young are blind, weigh approximately 34 g (1.2 oz), and are either naked or have this covering of soft hair. Their eyes open at 28-40 days of age, weaning begins at about days 42-49, and the young disperse when approximately 3 months old. Males begin breading during their second or third summer; females when 2 or 3 years old. Potential life span is at least 15-17 years, although few adults in the wild are likely to live to this age.

Predators: Few animals are known to prey upon martens; great horned owls, golden eagles, fishers, coyotes, and bobcat occasionally kill them.

Social Behavior:

  • Social system - The marten is polygamous, sedentary, and solitary. Adults occupy fixed home ranges with those of the opposite sex, but not those of the same sex. The home range of a male may include the ranges of several females. Males have larger ranges then females, about 4.5 sq km (2 sq mi) versus 2.6 sq km (1 sq mi) for females (Mark Brown, pers. Comm.).
  • Communication - Both sexes mark their home with sent from the abdominal and anal glands which presumably facilitate mating and spacing among adults. Martens are relatively quiet animals, but in aggressive and sexual encounters may produce a clucking sound, or screech, growl, hiss and scream.

Additional References 

Gebo, T. 1976. The pine marten (Martes american) in the Adirondacks: distribution of habitat affinities. M. S. Thesis, Univ. of Idaho, Moscow, 39pp.

Hamilton, W. J., Jr. 1958. Past and present distribution of marten in New York. Journal of Mammalogy, 39:589-591.

Hargis, C. D., and D. R. McCullough. 1984. Winter diet and habitat selection of marten in Yosemite National Park. Journal of Wildlife Management, 48:140-146.

Masters, R. D. 1980. Daytime resting sites of two Adirondack pine martens. Journal of Mammalogy, 61:157.

Spenser, W. D. 1987. Seasonal rest-site preferences of pine martens in the northern Sierra Nevada. Journal of Wildlife Management, 51:616-621.

Zielinski, W. J., W. D. Spencer, and R. H. Barrett. 1983. Relationship between food habits and activity patterns of pine martens. Journal of Mammalogy, 64:387.


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