American Marten/Sable - Photo Copyright Ward Cameron 2003 - Click to view a larger image American Marten/Sable - Photo Copyright Ward Cameron 2003 - Click to view a larger image American Marten/Sable - Photo Copyright Ward Cameron 2003 - Click to view a larger image American Marten/Sable - Photo Copyright Ward Cameron 2003 - Click to view a larger image 
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American Marten/Sable
Martes americana

Weasels, Skunks & Allies (Mustelidae)

Measurement: Size: 60 cm Weight: 0.9-1.0 kg

Description: Anyone who has spent any time in the mountains is familiar with the marten, perhaps the most notorious member of the weasel family. It isnít the biggest, nor the toughest weasel, but it is often the most persistent and bold member of the group. Martens are a cat-sized weasel with a dark back and light underside. They have light patches on the ears and a bushy tail. They are expert climbers and can get into just about anywhere. Unlike many weasels, they don't change colour in the winter, rather remaining dark year-round.

Range: They are found throughout the Canadian and American Rockies, prefering old growth forest with a complex mix of down and dead wood. While martens are capable climbers, they spend most of their time on the ground, exploring their territory (up to 8 sq. km/3 sq. mi). The abundance of deadfall provides areas to hunt for voles, along with places to stay warm. Their lean body loses heat quickly and martens need places to escape the cold weather. Young forests trap the martens above the snow surface, leaving them vulnerable to the elements.

Diet: Martens are versatile and bold. They are happy to break into a cabin, or dig their way into your winter igloo. Anything not nailed down is fair game. As a predator, they are very effective. They eat a plethora of voles, along with other small mammals, grouse and insects. They also down their share of berries and carrion.

Their fierce character limits their exposure to predators. Large cats, and larger weasels (not to mention the occasional owl) will take on a marten. Also, like most animals, they are most vulnerable when still young.

Reproduction: It's a pretty standard weasel story. They mate in late summer, and they exhibit the delayed implantation common with members of the weasel family. In mid-February, the egg begins to develop and the young will be born a month or so later.

Notes: The aggressive character of martens has made them the bane of the winter camper. They are quick to invade snow caves and igloos. I was spending a pleasant winter evening in the Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park when a marten decided to join us in our igloo. We had seen the marten before we headed to bed, so we anticipated its return. As soon as we lay down, we heard scratch, scratch, scratch, looked up, and up came the marten like a periscope. While we were able to scare it away, it returned regularly for the next five hours. Finally, exhausted, I sat up and growled back at it--we never saw it again. I do a fair imitation of a cougar growl, and for whatever reason, that was all she wrote. In the end, the marten had opened several zippered pockets and escaped with numerous granola bars and half a loaf of banana bread.

Related Links:

Hinterland Who's Who - Marten

Search for recent American Marten/Sable sightings

Hire a guide to help you spot some American Marten/Sable

All Material © Ward Cameron 2005



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