Getting to Know the Pine Martin

pine martin

Have you ever seen a pine marten? Pine martens are nifty little critters. They are closely related to weasels, minks, badgers and ferrets, they are fun to watch and martens are not especially afraid of people, though they are secretive and are not often seen. They have been hunted and trapped for their fur, however, and in some places, they still are.

Marten diet

Like other members of the weasel family, pine martens are carnivores. Their main food is virtually any small rodent they can catch. As it happens, they are very talented at catching their prey, too. Still, they will also take insects, lizards, snakes, an occasional amphibian and they will even eat grains and fruits on occasion.

This creature is built long and close to the ground. Because of this, they can easily navigate the burrow of a ground squirrel or similar prey. The tail isn’t as long as the body, and isn’t greatly bushy. The body is amazingly supple and flexible, though.

Marten appearance

The coloration of a pine marten varies from a warm, rich brown with some yellow to grayish, and this partly depends on the season and the area they are living in. Pine martens have a white belly. The fur is quite dense, especially in winter.

Color variations often occur between summer and winter. This is protective coloration and also helps the animals elude detection by their prey, as a brown pelt blends in with the forest background in the summer and a grayish color is good for a snowy background.

Martens live mostly in fir and pine forests and occasionally in mixed forests. This is ideal habitat, as these animals can climb quite well, much like a squirrel. Birds and bird eggs aren’t safe from a hungry marten.

These little short-eared and inquisitive animals tame easily. When we lived at Crater Lake National Park, there was a pine marten that would come in to the house every morning, in the spring and summer, through an open dining room window. It would sit on the table and help itself to buttered bread. Occasionally, it was given a piece of bacon or sausage, which it accepted without complaint. When it finished eating, it would zap back outside and literally seconds, it would disappear into the forest.

Like all members of the skunk or weasel family, martens can and do exude a potent musk. This may be a deterrent for predators and it does figure into breeding. When not threatened, however, it is hard to smell them. In this way, it is much like a ferret.

Martin reproduction

Martens whelp a litter of 3-4 pups on average, but this can vary between 1 and 5. The mother is the primary care giver, though the father will often guard the nest and may bring dead rodents for the mother and offspring to eat. This has rarely been observed, but then, martens have rarely been studied in the wild, too.

These animals do have the teeth of a predatory carnivore and should be treated with respect at all times. However, they are also happy little critters and aren’t looking for a fight, usually. If the issue is forced upon them, they are quite capable of inflicting serious damage, especially from their canine teeth. Cornered, a marten shows little fear of any other creature, even if it is much larger than the marten.

At one time, pine martens were listed as endangered, but more recent research shows that the population is many hundred thousand, so they aren’t actually often listed as endangered anymore. Being rarely sighted isn’t the same thing as being rare.

These little animals are fun to watch and to get to know. They are worthy of greater study. Pine martens are an animal that shine out, and they are so cute that it hard not to love them.




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