American Pine marten, Pine marten
The American marten (Martes americana) is a small North American mammal, a member of the family Mustelidae. It is sometimes called simply the Pine marten; the name "pine marten" is derived from the common name of the distinct Eurasian species, Martes martes. Their sable-like fur made American martens a thoroughly trapped species during the height of the North American fur trade. Trapping peaked in 1820, and populations were depleted until after the turn of the century. Populations have rebounded since, however, they remain extirpated from some areas of the Northeast, and of the 7 subspecies, one is threatened.
The body of the American marten is slim and the legs are short. The animal 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 its body. Its coat is velvety and stiff, having different shades, from pale buff to dark brown, in different parts of its body. Meanwhile, the 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 the 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 the martens’ habitat is the 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 the 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. Martens can be both nocturnal and diurnal. The weather may impact their activity, resting site use, and prey availability. In winter, they may go into shallow torpor daily to reduce heat loss. Individuals may become inactive during storms or extreme cold. A snowy habitat in many parts of the range of the American marten provides thermal protection and opportunities for foraging and resting. American martens are well adapted to snow and travel extensively under the snowpack. On the Kenai Peninsula, individuals navigated through deep snow regardless of depth, with tracks rarely sinking more than 2 inches (5 cm) into the snowpack. American martens are also excellent swimmers, being able to swim even under the water. They communicate with each other by means of sounds (such as huffs, chuckles, and shouts) or visual signals (such as different body postures).
American martens are omnivores, eating food of both plant and animal origin. Generally, they hunt small species of mammals, preferring Red squirrels above all but will 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 martens are polygynous, which means that one male mates with 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). The gestation period lasts 28 days, after which a female gives birth to 1-5 kits. Females give birth in “natal” dens, moving then their young to maternal dens. Young grow up rapidly, being weaned at 43 days old. Thereafter, the mother leaves her kits by themselves, tending to breed again in the next season. American martens become reproductively mature at the age of 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 the deforestation of coniferous woods, which is the major component of American martens’ habitat. Forest fires and human intervention are among the factors, threatening the 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, American martens have a huge influence on prey populations, controlling and contributing to the formation of forest communities. They may also be important seed dispersers; seeds generally pass through the animal intact, and seeds are likely germinable.