American Marten or Pine Marten
by Mark Fraser
Species: Marten Americana
The American Marten is a truly enigmatic ambassador to all things wild. Sightings of these large members of the weasel family will brighten any family camping trip or bring a flash of raw wilderness while exploring the back country.
Amazingly there are actually two types of Marten in North America. “Martes Americana” – which is what we see on the Adirondacks and most of the mountainous parts of the northeastern unites States and across Canada and also “Martes Caurina” who lives in the far Western parts of Canada and in the US Rockies as well as parts of California and Oregon.
While exploring Mother Nature over the many years we have been lucky enough to have seen both varieties in the wild although Martes Caurina was a singe and very brief but very close encounter. My wife Anne (who’s Marten Americana images are included with this article) and I were exploring the Rockies, actually looking for Grizzlies to film.
While in Wyoming we pulled into a random mountainside campsite to look around and suddenly in a tree no more than a few feet away was a Marten! He dashed around the tree in an upward spiral flushing squirrels with a speed and agility that was jaw dropping. Just like Martes Americana that we seen in the Adirondacks and Algonquin Park Ontario this is a true arboreal mammalian predator with curled claws designed specifically to climb up and even straight down a tree at high speed!
They also have the weasel body shape best able to find prey in a den hole or hiding in brush and any attempt to outrun a Marten by climbing a tree actually gives the marten a strategic advantage. They are intelligent and curious with a personality that is unique to every individual but always filled with old fashioned moxie (a trait that most members of the Mustelidae family can relate with). Hyper situationally aware and keenly focused on whatever task is at hand, and that is including play.
Like their larger cousin the Fisher, Marten have 5 toes however unlike the fisher only 4 toes usually show up on their prints in mud and snow. That’s the price of having small thumbs (hitchhiking is completely out of the question). In the Adirondack I Marten once walked along the edge of a remote dirt road and was preoccupied long enough for me to ID. I have seen Marten a few times over the years in the Adirondacks and in the middle of Winter in Algonquin Park. Video of those amazing Martens in winter can be seen here: Marten, Gray Jay, Evening Grosbeak and Red Fox.
Marten are fairly long lived in fact they can live up to about 15 years however as you might expect lifespan in the wilderness varies greatly depending on your ability to outsmart your prey and any would-be predators. I have heard many exaggerated reports of huge Martens (more likely misidentified Fishers) in reality the biggest Marten weight about 3 lbs. They are an absolutely beautiful species and if being cute actually gave a predator the ability to shock prey into submission then Marten will clearly outlive us all.
Remember with wildlife – “The more you look, the more you see…”
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