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American Marten

American Martens , Martes americana, are found in the northern reaches of North America. The species is present from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia west to Alaska and south into sections of the rocky mountain range and California.

American Marten

American Marten

Martens are found sporadically in parts of New York state, Michigan, Minnesota, Maine, and Wisconsin. Although populations were greater in the southeastern portion of the species range in Colonial times, loss of forest habitat in these areas has restricted their range.

Martens are mink-like mammals in appearance and are slightly larger than a typical house cat in size. Male martens are larger than females, weighing about 1 ¼ – 2 ½ lbs and 14 ½ – 20 ½ inches in length. A female marten is 1 – 1 ½ lbs and 12 ½ – 17 inches long . Martens have a sharp pointed face, bushy tail, a thick coat of fur and five toes on each foot with toepads covered by fur most of the year . Claws on a marten are sharp, helping with mobility in climbing trees, and they have relatively large eyes and ears compared to their body .

In the summer, a marten’s coat is thinner than in winter and the overall color can vary from season to season or region to region. The coat is typically a golden brown color, but can range from dark brown to full yellow . Generally, the fur on a marten’s face and head are lighter in color than the rest of the body and the coat darkens frequently to near black on its underbelly and feet .

Martes americana is an opportunistic feeder. The diet consists primarily of small mammals, including squirrels and rodents. Occasionally birds, fruit, nuts, insects, and carrion are eaten as well. American martens usually kill their prey with a quick, powerful bite to the back of the prey animal’s neck. American martens sometimes have fast-paced chases in trees with a favorite prey item, red squirrels.

American Marten

American Marten

American martens eat mostly meat. They are willing to eat any animal they can catch. Most of the time, they catch squirrels and micebut can sometimes eat birds, fruit, nuts, insects, and carrion.American martens kill their prey with a quick, powerful bite to the back of the prey animal’s neck. They sometimes have fast-paced chases in trees with red squirrels.

Life Cycle: Martens mate in the summer months, usually June to August . Martens are polygamous and females will often mate with more than one male in a season. They also will mate several times during a given day . Females tend to become more aggressive during mating, as do males who often fight with other males to mate with a female . To attract a mate, females will urinate or use their abdominal scent glands to mark the ground. They will also become very vocal; grunting, screaming, or growling to attract a male.

courtships can last as long as 15 days, during which much wrestling and playing occurs between potential mates. Once a mate is chosen, a male will grab the female’s skin from behind with its teeth and may hold on to or drag her around for up to 30 minutes before coitus begins. The act of mating itself can last for up to 90 minutes . After successful mating has occurred, the female becomes more aggressive towards the male and runs him off . Male martens do not participate any further than mating and have no role in child rearing .

A female marten’s pregnancy is an interesting process. Once an egg is fertilized, implantation is delayed and the egg remains as a blastocyst in the female’s uterus for 190-250 days . In February, the fertilized egg implants itself into the female marten’s uterus, and development takes about 28 days (Nowak, 1991). Infant martens are born live usually between March and April . On average, a marten will give birth to 2.6 babies, with a range of 1-5 . The ratio of male to female births is 53:47; a pretty even distribution . At birth, a baby marten will be 3.6-4.8 inches long and weigh about one ounce. They are blind, deaf, and toothless, but already will have a thick coat of smooth fur.

American Martens

American Martens

Mother martens look after their young for several months, not allowing them to leave the nest for at least two months, allowing the babies to suckle for nourishment . A marten baby will be weaned at six weeks of age and, at 3.5 to 4 months old, a marten reaches its physical maturity and the mother will leave. A female marten will only have one litter per year . Despite being full size and mature at 4 months, a marten will not reach sexual maturity until 15-24 months of age. Martens can continue to be sexually reproductive up to 12 years in the wild or to at least 15 years of age if kept in captivity . In the wild, a marten’s life expectancy is in the range of 8-10 years, but can live as long as 15 to 17 years in captivity .

martens have few natural predators. It seems that the marten’s ability to quickly climb trees, out of the reach of most terrestrial predators, helps to mitigate their susceptibility to being killed. They do have natural predators and these include fishers, coyote, lynx, mountain lions, eagles and great horned owls. Martens are also subjected to inter- and intra-species competition, especially during late winter when food starts to become scarce.

Competition from other species typically come from fishers, but also may come from other martens. Males are larger and hold more fat on their bodies than females, and so can fare better in the late months of winter. Because this size difference begins at birth, even female infants face stronger competition and are less suitable to compete for food with male litter mates. The biggest threat to martens are human activities, whether through trapping or by destruction of habitat .

American Marten

American Marten

Even though martens have few natural predators, the biggest threat to their population is humans. Distributions of martens have remained relatively continuous from Labrador to Alaska, but the marten’s southern range, along the Great Lakes, and its range in Western United States have been rather fragmented due to human encroachment . Populations in the West have naturally been fragmented due to the varied terrain and discontinuous range of conifer forests. With an increase in humans entering forested regions and the use of the land for intense logging and human settlement, these naturally isolated populations have become further fragmented. Previous human settlement in the Great Lakes region has also, in the past, destroyed habitats of the marten and the fisher.

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