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American Marten

Martre d'Amérique

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American Marten

Facts about the American Marten

Family: Mustelidae.
Length: 49 to 68 cm.
Weight: Males weigh from 500 to 1,500 g, females from 400 to 900 g.
Sexual Maturity: Around two years of age.
Lifespan : 6 to 8 years.

  • Pointed muzzle. Fur on the head and ears is usually a shade lighter than the rest of the coat.  
  • Big, bushy tail half as long as the body.
  • Short legs, large paws with semi-retractable claws.
  • Depending on the season, the coat varies from pale yellowish buff (in summer) to dark brown (in winter). An orangey throat patch appears in winter.

Originally from Asia, the marten is now found the world over, and has probably lived in North America for approximately 60,000 years. The American marten (Martes americana) makes its home in the coniferous forests of the central, western and eastern regions of Canada. Although it once inhabited all of Eastern Canada, martens are now extinct in Prince Edward Island.  Also occurs in Alaska and the northern United States.

Habitat

MartreThe marten prefers mature coniferous forests, but will also settle in mixed stands of evergreens and hardwoods.  On average, the male’s home range is considerably larger than the female’s:  it can cover an area of 2.6 km2 when prey is plentiful or as much as 38 km2 when food is scarce.  A loner and a fighter, a male marten will not tolerate another male anywhere on its range or territory. 

Den site

The American marten makes its den in a burrow, a tree hollow or a hole made by a Pileated woodpecker, and pads it with leaves, moss and grass.  Any uprooted tree stump or decent-sized hollow will also do. 

Weaning

Baby martens, or kits, are old enough to be weaned and to leave the den with their mother around June or July.  She has lost a lot of weight while nursing them.  Weaned when they are roughly six weeks’ old, the kits stay with their mother, and follow her as she hunts, right up until August or September. By summer’s end, they have learned to fend for themselves.   

Fierce hunters

Martens feed on a variety of small mammals such as field mice, voles and shrews, along with hares, grouse and squirrels, supplemented by occasional amphibians and eggs.  They round out their diet with fruits and nuts.  Although extremely agile in trees, martens hunt mainly on the ground.

Short mating season, long gestation period

MartreMales and females only come in contact with each other during the mating season in late July and early August. The abdominal scent glands secrete musk to attract a mate.  Females leave their scent on a male’s territory by rubbing against trees or rocks. The gestation period is very long (8 to 9 months) because the fertilized egg is only implanted on the wall of the uterus 25 or 28 days before the end of the gestation period.  

The marten is hunted for its highly prized luxurious fur. Inquisitive by nature, it is easy to trap. Man is its worst enemy, although it is also threatened by the Fisher, the Canada lynx, the Bobcat, the Red fox, and the Great horned owl.

THE AMERICAN MARTEN SEASON BY SEASON

Spring

The female’s gestation period lasts 8 to 9 months. As is the case with several other members of the Mustelidae family, the embryos stop developing shortly after the egg is fertilized, and only begin to grow again at the end of February. Active gestation lasts approximately 28 days. 

Parturition occurs in March or April.  The average litter consists of three or four offspring. Baby martens, or kits, weigh about 30 g at birth. They are blind and deaf, their bodies covered in a fine yellowish hair.  Their hearing develops around 26 days of age, but their eyes don’t open until they’re 39 days’ old.  

Summer

Martens are most active during the summer months. The male spends as much as 16 hours a day hunting. Only the female cares for the young, which allows her no more than 6 to 8 hours a day to hunt. Social interaction is limited to the time the females spend raising their young, and contact between males and females during the mating season. They live apart for the rest of the year.  

In late July or early August, shortly after the kits have been weaned, the male and female will breed again. 

Fall - Winter

As the weather grows colder, the marten’s coat turns dark brown and an orangish patch appears on the throat. The fur on the soles of the paws grows so thick that they leave barely any prints in the snow. 

The marten is active year round. It uses the tunnels under the snow to pursue rodents during the colder months. It also caches food stocks for when they’re needed.

The colder it gets, the less martens are likely to hunt. When the weather is really bad, they can survive, burrowed underground, for several days on end. 

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