American martens are small animals, living on trees. They belong to the same group as skunks and weasels. The body of marten is slim and legs are short. American marten has curved claws that help it to climb easily. The head is wide and tapers to a pointed nose. It has black eyes and big, rounded ears. The fluffy tail is half-length of it body. Its coat is velvety and stiff, having different shades, from pale buff to dark brown, in different part of its body. Meanwhile, summer coat of the marten is light-colored and shorter in length hair. It has also a creamy to orange-colored “breastplate” on its chest and throat.
American martens are widespread around northern part of North America. Habitat of martens stretches from the northernmost forests of Alaska and Canada to northern New Mexico, from California to Newfoundland. However, some small populations of American martens are estimated in the American Midwest – Wisconsin and Minnesota. Nevertheless, the major area of martens’ habitat is dense northern forest. These animals live on shore pines, fir trees and Douglas firs. American martens are more frequently found in mature and impassable forests, at all altitudes. They build their dens in empty hollows, burrows left by former dwellers and clefts in trees.
American martens lead a solitary life. Generally, they avoid other martens, but as mating season comes, they come out of dens, looking for mates. Being tree-dwelling animals, martens move deftly on trees. They possess odorous glands, which they use for marking their trail ways on trees. However, they climb down trees to hunt. Martens can be both nocturnal and diurnal. Hunting time is sunrise and sunset – the time of increased activity of all prey species. American marten is an excellent swimmer, being able to swim even under water. They are not dormant and are active during winter months.
They are omnivores, eating food of both plant and animal origin. Generally, they hunt on small species of mammals, preferring red squirrels above all. However, in reality they feed upon any kind of prey: frogs, fish, carrion, insects and birds. From plant food they eat seeds, nuts (particularly beechnuts), berries and fruits.
American marten is polygynous, which means that one male mates a number of females. Males fiercely defend their territory against unwanted guests such as other males. Breeding season takes place in summer and lasts 3 months (June-August). Gestation period lasts 28 days, after which a female gives birth to 1-5 babies. Females give birth in “natal” dens, moving then babies to maternal dens. Young grow up rapidly, being weaned at 43 days old. Thereafter, the mother leaves young by themselves, tending to breed again in the next season. American martens reach sexual maturity at 15-24 months old.
Over a long period of time, American martens have been killed and persecuted within their home range because of their pelts having huge demand in the market. Another threat is deforestation of coniferous woods, which is the major component of American martens’ habitat. Forest fires and human intervention are among the factors, threatening martens’ population in North America.
The total population number of American martens is not currently known, but it is presumed to be at least several hundred thousand individuals. Although their numbers are decreasing today, the IUCN has listed them as Least Concern, due to their wide distribution in North America.
Being predators, martens have a huge influence on prey populations, controlling and contributing to formation of forest community.