The American marten or marten, often incorrectly called the pine marten because of their close resemblance to their European relative, is a member of the mustelid family. The name mustelid came from the fact that members of this family have developed anal scent glands which produce a strong repellent smell that are often used to mark territories. Other members of this family that can be found in New York include fisher, ermine, weasel, mink, and the river otter.
Marten are a small, slender bodied mammal with a long bushy tail that measure about one-third of their overall length. They have a pointed snout and large round ears in comparison to their head. Generally, the females are smaller than the males. They also have claws that are semi- retractable, just like a cat. The adult female will measure only 18-22 inches in length and weigh 1.5-1.8 pounds while the adult male will be around 20-25 inches in length and 1.6-2.8 pounds. Their fur is made up of long soft hairs. Fur coloring varies greatly between individuals from a pale buff-yellowish color to a reddish brown, with paler head and underparts and darker legs and a light colored throat patch. Marten are often confused with fisher, another member of the weasel family. The fisher can be found throughout New York's marten range and is similar in appearance and tracks, but the fisher is much larger in size than the marten.
Marten are solitary mammals, avoiding their own kind except during mating season. Most active during the dusk and dawn hours, they are an arboreal species, spend the majority of their lives in and around mature spruce - fir coniferous forest, or a mixed hardwood, especially beech tree - coniferous forest. This type of environment provides ideal sites for them to den and also great habitat for their primary prey species the red squirrel. Here in New York, the vast majority of marten will be found in the High Peaks region of the Central Adirondacks and surrounding areas. Although they are very shy, marten are extremely curious creatures as well. The sighting reports that we receive from the public are usually encounters with marten staring in a window at them or sitting on their seasonal cabin's porch.
American Marten are omnivores. They do prey heavily on small mammals, especially red squirrels, but they are known to eat just about anything - birds, fish, frogs, insects, and carrion. Their diet also includes seasonal fruit, seed, and nut crops like berries, and especially beech nuts.
Marten have polygynous mating habits, usually breeding with more than one partner. The male establishes his territory and defends it against all other male incursion. Marten breeding season occurs in mid-summer but the young are not born until late March to early April. This is because marten are part of a group of mammals that have the ability to delay the implantation of fertilized eggs. Even though the female's eggs are fertilized almost right away, the eggs will not become attach to the uterus wall and begin to develop until sometime in February. This is known as delayed implantation. Gestation is actually 42 days. The young, or kits as they are correctly called, are born in late March to early April. Both blind and naked at birth, the kits grow rapidly and by about 3 months old they are fully grown. Shortly after that, their mother will leave them to fend for themselves and she will get ready to breed all over again. Marten normally reach sexual maturity around two years of age when they will undergo their first breeding season.
Tracks and Sign
The marten's foot has very large foot pads in relation to their body weight. This gives them a big advantage of being able to walk on deep snow that is very common in the Central Adirondacks. They grow longer hair between their foot pads in the winter which aids in keeping their feet warm. This hair often distorts the marten's track size. When snow tracking, you may find where a marten will travel "subnevean," or below the surface of the snow, in order to hunt small prey that have taken winter refuge in downed trees. It is often difficult to tell the difference between a marten track and that of their close relative the fisher, especially in poor snow conditions.