|The pine marten is a small, omnivorous mustelid native to the continental Eurasian area and found in forest habitats. As a nocturnal, arboreal mammal, this creature is a skilled treetop hunter and adept climber with many physical adaptations that help it scale tree and is mostly active during the night and at dusk.|
The pine marten is a medium-sized mustelid, about the size of a large domestic cat with similar proportions. There is substantial size variation found geographically. Sexual dimorphism is also seen in size, with males outweighing females by 12-30%.
The pine marten has many physical adaptations fit for its arboreal, acrobatic lifestyle. It has a long, bushy tail to aid in balancing, a bone and muscle structure that aids its powerful forelimbs, and well-developed claws for grasping tree trunks and branches. In fact, the pine marten is one of the only mustelids with semi-retractable claws.
Several skull attributes allow pine martens to be remarkable predators. An elongated braincase allows for the insertion of an enlarged temporalis muscle while a large flange on the mandibular fossae prevents the dislocation of the lower jaw. Pine martens also possess well-developed shearing and crushing cheek-teeth. These characteristics aid martens in capture, restraint, and processing of prey.
The pine marten has a rich brown fur coat that is thick and silky in the winter and short and coarse in the summer. A complete molt occurs only once a year in the spring and the winter fur begins growing in September. The pads on the marten’s soles are also completely covered with fur in the winter.
The coloration of the pine marten includes a rich brown base coat; an irregular, creamy-orange throat patch; a grayish tint on the belly; and darkening on the paws.
The pine marten’s ears are relatively large and triangular.
European Pine Marten
M. m. borealis
M. m. latinorum
M. m. lorenzi
M. m. martes
M. m. minoricensis
M. m. notialis
M. m. ruthena
M. m. uralensis
The European pine marten is known most commonly as the pine marten in Anglophone Europe. it is also less commonly known as baum marten or sweet marten.
The Modern English word, marten, comes from the Middle English martryn, in turn borrowed from the Anglo-French martrine. The Old French word, martre or martes in Latin is from a Germanic source.
The Latin word for helmet, galea, originally meant marten pelt, although it is unclear whether early Romans wore these helmets for symbolical reasons or for their fine fur.
The family Mustelidae stems from the Latin word mustela, meaning weasel.
The pine marten is a member of the Mustelid family, which also includes about 60 species of minks, otters, badgers, ferrets, wolverines, and weasels across eight subspecies. Martens are the only mustelid with semi-retractable claws.
The pine marten is categorized in the Martes genus within the subfamily Guloninae with six other extant marten species, the American marten (Martes Americana), yellow-throated marten (Martes flavigula), beech marten (Martes foina), nilgiri marten (Martes gwatkinsii), Japanese marten (Martes melampus), and the sable (Martes zibellina).
Results of DNA research indicate that the genus Martes is polyphyletic, with some studies placing Martes americana outside the genus and allying it with Eira and Gulo, to form a new New World clade. The genus first evolved up to seven million years ago during the Miocene epoch.
The European pine marten is distributed through most portions of continental Eurasia from western Europe in the west to western Siberia in the east, from the northern edge of coniferous forest in the north to Asia Minor in the south.
The species also inhabits the Caucasus and many Mediterranean islands including the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, Elba and Sicily. The degree to which island populations are due to human introduction is not entirely known.
Formerly widespread in Great Britain, it is now restricted to Ireland and northern portions of mainland Britain.
The pine marten is considered to be a habitat specialist. Having a closed treetop as cover from predation is thought to be an important habitat criterion for the species. As such, the pine marten prefers forest habitats, including deciduous, mixed, and coniferous forest. Old-growth forest is often preferred over young forest.
Pine marten habitats are usually found in well-wooded areas and they usually make their own dens in hollow trees or scrub-covered fields.
Although pine martens favor tree cover, they can be found outside of forests.
In Scotland, pine martens are habitat generalists, rather than habitat specialists, and frequent many habitat types. They are seen in young forest plantations, coarse grassland, heather and grass moorland, and borders. Stone dykes are used as runways to get from area to another.
On the island of Minorca, the pine marten shows no habitat preference, acting as a habitat generalist, rather than a habitat specialist. On this island, they live in shrubland and are seemingly indifferent to tree cover. It is thought that the absence of predators on the island has allowed the martens to become habitat generalists.
Pine martens are skillful treetop hunters and adept climbers and have an arboreal, acrobatic lifestyle. They are frequently found racing on thin, swinging branches and leaping from one treetop to another in pursuit of small prey, especially squirrels.
Pine martens are nocturnal, mostly active during the night and at dusk. Male pine martens cover more distance at night with further travel in the spring and summer than the autumn and winter.
Pine martens are solitary except when young are in the nest. Independent subadults are tolerated within the range of adult animals, but these may represent offspring that did not disperse in their first fall.
Pine marten male-female bonds are transitory. Field studies indicate that males may successfully guard a mated female through territory defense if his range encompasses that of the female.
Pine marten communication is known to occur through scent-marking of home ranges. Abdominal and anal scent glands are used to mark areas throughout the territory.
Although home range size estimates of the pine marten vary widely between studies, it is clear that male ranges are larger than female ranges and that they overlap those of one or more females. Home ranges within both sexes, however, are usually non-overlapping. There is either high individual and geographical variation in pine marten home range size, or difficulty in measurement by researchers. Some sources give an average of 23 square kilometers for males and 6.5 square kilometers for females, others estimate only 2.2 square kilometers for males and 1.5 square kilometers for females. On the island of Minorca, ranges were measured as 0.5 square kilometers for females and 6.9 square kilometers for males.
In the majority of the pine marten’s range, where the habitat is highly seasonal, range size changes seasonally. The autumn/winter ranges can be 8-54% smaller than the spring/summer ranges. This range difference is also reflected in the distances covered by males at night, with further travel in the summer than the winter.
The density of pine martens is about 0.3-0.8 square kilometers. At high densities, intrasexual ranges can overlap.
The pine marten is omnivorous and favors animal food, relying on small mammals for most of the year. Favored foods include voles, squirrels, birds, insects, carrion, frogs, reptiles, and snails.
The diets of pine martens that forage along a loch in Scotland have been recorded to include crabs, echinoderms, and barnacles.
The diet composition and proportion of the pine marten often changes according to season and local conditions. Populations respond to the unpredictable cycles of rodents, such as voles, by drastically increasing their consumption of these prey items. The reproductive characteristics of the pine marten prevents it from closely tracking the rodent cycles, however, as a population increase is seen a full year after a rodent boom.
In Scotland and on the island of Minorca, when fruits and berries become abundant in the autumn, pine martens may fill 30% of their diet with these resources. In other regions, such as Poland, fruits may never be eaten.
Aside from the effects of seasonally available fruits, the diet of the pine marten is otherwise reasonably constant.
Pine martens store their food in the summer and autumn to compensate for low winter resources. Foraging occurs within the treetops, as well as extensively on the forest floor. In habitats other than forest, all foraging is completed on the ground.
Reproduction in pine martens is tied closely to the seasonality of their temperate habitats, as it is in many members of the family Mustelidae.
In the wild, male and female pine martens may mate in their first summer, in August and July, at 14 months of age. The first mating season, however, may typically be deferred until the second or third year. In captivity, most males do not breed until 27 months old. This could be due to stress incurred under captive conditions or inaccuracy in aging wild animals.
Adult male pine martens exhibit a distinct seasonal testicular cycle and can be sexually vigorous throughout their entire lives. Males complete testicular development a full month before estrous, and begin regression about the time females enter estrous. The first visible sign of estrous in females is an enlarged vulva.
Most pine marten mating occurs within a 30- to 45-day period, during which females may exhibit one to four periods of sexual receptivity. These periods last for 1-4 days and have an interval of 6-17 days. Copulation is prolonged, lasting 30-50 minutes, and may occur on the ground or in trees. In captivity, multiple copulations with one or more males can occur during each period of receptivity.
Social behavior of the pine marten intensifies in late winter, between February and March, as evidenced by increased scent marking frequency, intersexual tolerance, intrasexual aggression, and hormonal levels. The term “false heat” has been applied to this behavioral enigma. This was initially thought to be a mating period, but it is clear that mating does not occur until summer. In addition, males have not undergone spermatogenesis yet. This does correspond to implantation and the beginnings of pregnancy, however. Due to the unexplained occurrence of extra, subadult individuals only in the early winter months, it has been suggested that the aggressive behavior serves to force dispersal of these remaining young from the previous summer before the new litter is born.
Mating and fertilization occurs in July and August and is followed by a period of delayed implantation that lasts about seven months. Implantation occurs in late February and March. The timing of implantation responds to photoperiod, specifically to the spring’s increase in duration of daylight. Post-implantation development lasts 30-35 days, and parturition occurs in late March through April.
Although female pine martens only have four functional mammae, they can produce a litter of up to 2-5 with an average of 3.
Pine martens prefer nesting in hollow trees, but squirrel nests, abandoned bird nests, and rock crevices are also used as hideaways. At colder ambient temperatures in the winter, martens more frequently choose to rest underground. An individual pine marten can have several nests within the home range.
At birth, young pine martens weigh about 30 grams. They are blind, deaf, and toothless, and have thick, short fur. In the nest, young pine marten communicate to their mother by twittering.
The eyes open at 34-38 days. Young martens begin consuming solid food at 36-45 days, and weaning occurs about six weeks after parturition. At 7-8 weeks, the young emerge from the den and may begin dispersing at 12-16 weeks, during the breeding season. Some young may overwinter in the natal territory and disperse in the following spring.
Juvenile pine martens acquire their adult pelage in their first winter.
Pine martens have no known negative effects on humans. They avoid human settlements and have never been known as a pest.
The thick and silky, rich, brown winter coat of the pine marten has always been in high demand. As such, the species has been successfully kept on fur farms. Life history characteristics, however, prevent trade of pine marten fur from being feasible on a large, commercial scale.
The pine marten is listed as Least Concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species in view of its wide distribution, large population, occurrence in a number of protected areas, tolerance to some degree of habitat modification, and because it is unlikely to be declining at nearly the rate required to qualify for listing even as Near Threatened.
Indeed, the population is stable to increasing, after former steep declines in some of its range.
Potential threats to the pine marten include unsustainable hunting and trapping, incidental poisoning, and the loss and fragmentation of woodland habitats.
The marten is hunted and trapped for its fur in some parts of its range.
Its decline in Britain was because of persecution as a predator of livestock, particularly of game, and the species is still subject to persecution even in some countries in which it is protected.
Efforts to control other carnivore species sometimes results in pine marten deaths.
The pine Marten is listed on Appendix III of the Bern Convention Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Annex V of the European Union Habitats DirectiveAnnex V of the European Union Habitats Directive, and it occurs in a number of protected areas across its range. In The United Kingdom, it is listed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Hunting controls need to be implemented and enforced across the pine marten’s range.
In Russia, it is protected in 43 State Reserves (zapovedniks), totaling an area 3,495 square km² and 24 National Parks totaling an area of 3,678 km². In Russia, there is state annual wildlife monitoring at the end of winter by tracks on snow. This monitors the population trend and allows an estimate of numbers. This is complemented by scientific ‘Servis of harvest’ monitoring by the polling of hunters. This has been carried out since 1935, and monitors the population trend and estimates numbers of martens trapped. The State official administrative norm for all areas with pine martens is that the next trapping and hunting season’s quota cannot be more than 35% of the number of martens in the province, district, or place of hunting, as evaluated at the end of the previous trapping season. The pine marten is listed in he Red Data Book of Kazakhstan.
In the United Kingdom, although populations have increased markedly in Scotland with the near-cessation of persecution, natural repopulation of southern Britain is considered so unlikely that releases will be needed.
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