The American Marten
By Al Lowe
This is the famous sable of the fur industry. One of our large weasels, the American Marten is found in almost all parts of Canada except the broad prairies. In Europe, it has two much alike cousins, the Pine Marten, and the Stone Marten, which became the famous "Russian Sable."
Our Marten is a fair size, from two to two and a half feet in length. His fur may be anywhere from golden to nearly black, usually a lustrous brown. The undercoat is soft and luxurious, hence its great attraction as a fur coat.
At one time, the Marten was quite common in most of the treed areas of Canada, the northern U.S. and far down in the Appalachians and the Rockies. This animal does not agree with settlement very well, so it has been pushed out of much of its range. Also, trapping has been a large factor in reduction of its numbers. Nowadays, trapping is very heavily controlled, and Marten numbers are building up. They have been re-introduced into various parts of their original range. But here in Northwestern Ontario, we still have a very healthy and sustained population of these valuable fur bearers.
Martens are 'loners.' They only get together to mate, for perhaps 10 days or so, in July and August. Then a curious thing happens. The fertilized eggs are held for several months before being implanted in the uterus. Then the fetuses develop in about four weeks and the wee ones are born in March or April. Actually, many of the weasel family exhibit the same type of reproductive habits.
The Marten is a weasel, and shows the same endless energy, quick movements and voraciousness in eating, that most of the family do. The Marten lives on a great variety of things - mice, voles, chipmunks, birds, eggs, insects, fruit and nuts. It is also very fond of carrion, and will hang around a wolf kill until the last scrap is gone. It is lightening fast, too. Say goodbye to the squirrel who comes to the Marten's attention. The Marten can follow a squirrel through the trees, the bushes, the underbrush. He is faster, and always gets his meal.
As far as enemies are concerned, the major predators - foxes, coyotes, and so on, are not usually quick enough to catch the Marten, unless he is surprised. But one is. Strangely enough, it is the Fisher, the Marten's big cousin. Although much larger, the Fisher is at least as agile, and quite a bit faster. So one big weasel eats another.
The trapping of Martens is apparently fairly easy. They are extremely curious, and can be lured by many different scents. One report had a trapper using cheap perfume! They can be caught over and over again. For such a sharp, quick animal, our Marten is a bit of a dunderhead when it comes to traps.
At one time, the Marten played a very large part in the fur trade in Canada. Even in the early 1900's, some 60,000 pelts were sold each year.
Their only major enemy is man. Apart from trapping, things like fire, clear-logging and settlement have contributed to their decline. Happily, the population is increasing at a good rate again.
If you have a cabin in the woods, chances are you may catch a glimpse of Marten americana, the American Marten, one of our important fur-bearers. Actually, it is one of those animals which gave Canada its start.