Martens are slender, often arboreal species that mainly populate forested areas in the Northern Hemisphere. They vary in size and shape, yet all have defining features that link them, such as semi retractable claws (which is unique within the family Mustelidae), long tails that often match their body length, and adaptations to the joints in their wrists and legs to help them climb down trees headfirst without issue.
Their behaviour tends to lean towards an arboreal lifestyle. It can however, be misunderstood that they only live within trees and do all their feeding in this environment—which is not the case, as martens are known to hunt and forage both on land and within trees. Martens are omnivores, and have varied eating habits that change as the seasons do—having a more berry and fruit orientated diet in the summer months, and a more meat filled diet in the winter months.
Martens are a mostly solitary species, but can be seen in small family groups. They do seem to tolerate each other’s company if food sources are particularly rich in some areas.
Not all species of marten are “pine martens” Much the same as “weasel”, when we hear the term “pine marten”, it can be unclear what exact species is being referred to. Pine martens are not considered to be a polyphyletic group, but this common name is sometimes mistakenly applied to every Martes species. The term “pine marten” refers to the European pine marten (Martes martes), but it is also loosely applied to the American marten (Martes americana), due to their similar appearance. This shared common name can lead to confusion, since both of these mustelids are actually their own species, and—as their names suggest—live on completely different continents. The word “pine” can also be misleading, given neither of these semi-arboreal species use pine trees exclusively. Similarly, the beech marten (Martes foina) does not have a preference for beech trees.
Much the same as “weasel”, when we hear the term “pine marten”, it can be unclear what exact species is being referred to. Pine martens are not considered to be a polyphyletic group, but this common name is sometimes mistakenly applied to every Martes species.
The term “pine marten” refers to the European pine marten (Martes martes), but it is also loosely applied to the American marten (Martes americana), due to their similar appearance. This shared common name can lead to confusion, since both of these mustelids are actually their own species, and—as their names suggest—live on completely different continents.
The word “pine” can also be misleading, given neither of these semi-arboreal species use pine trees exclusively. Similarly, the beech marten (Martes foina) does not have a preference for beech trees.
#1 American Marten (Martes americana)
The American marten, also known as the North American pine marten, or simply pine marten, is a North American member of the family. Despite being officially known as the American marten, they have a far greater range in Canada than the United States.
They are often mixed up with the European pine marten, but have a proportionally larger, wider head with more pronounced zygomatic arches (cheek bones), a more slender muzzle and shorter limbs. The fur is medium to light brown and warm in tone, with darker paws and tail and a slightly lighter face. A “bib” (throat patch) is present, varying in size between individuals and yellow to apricot in colour. The winter coat is longer, denser and silkier. Contrasts are much more pronounced, with the face appearing almost white.
Body length: 36–45 cm / 13–17 in
Tail length: 13.5–16 cm / 5.4–6.4 in
Weight: 0.5–1.4 kg / 1.1–3.1 lb
Lifespan: Unknown (wild), up to 17 years (captivity)
Range: Northern North America, Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada.
Conservation status: Least concern
- Alaska marten – (M. a. actuosa)
- American marten – (M. a. vulpina)
- British Columbia marten – (M. a. abietinoides)
- Eastern American marten – (M. a. americana)
- Farthest north marten – (M. a. boria)
- Hudson Bay marten – (M. a. abieticola)
- Humboldt marten – (M. a. humboldtensis)
- Kenai Peninsula marten – (M. a. kenaiensis)
- Newfoundland marten – (M. a. atrata)
- North Labrador marten – (M. a. brumalis)
- Queen Charlotte marten – (M. a. nesophila)
- Rocky Mountain marten – (M. a. origensis)
- Sierra marten – (M. a. sierrae) or (M. c. sierrae)
- Vancouver Island marten – (M. a. vancourverensis)
#2 Beech Marten (Martes foina)
The beech marten, also known as the stone marten, house marten or white breasted marten, is native to much of Europe and Central Asia, though they have been brought to North America where they have established a feral population. Unlike most mustelids, the beech marten thrives in and around human settlements; both in cities and more rural areas.
Yet another species that is often mixed up with the European pine marten, but is very different by closer expection. A heavier body with much shorter limbs make them appear less athletic, ironically with a tail that is longer than that of the woodland dwellers they are compared to. In terms of little details, the ears are smaller, the eyes larger, the nose pinkish brown rather than dark, and the paw pads are bared. The fur has no value whatsoever, being coarse with sparsely spread guard hairs. This exposes the grayish-white undercoat, which is why the overall colour appears light brown. Tail, limbs and underside is dark brown, in stark contrast to the white “bib” that characteristically splits between- and spreads down the front limbs.
Introduction to the United States
Damage to attics and automobiles
How to humanely marten-proof your property
For beech martens in automobiles
Beech martens are territorial animals, and while the exact reason for their interest in automobiles is unknown, there are a few theories. During the colder months, martens may be attracted to the warmth of an engine. They also tend to mark their territories by leaving scratch and bite marks in certain places, which may explain the damage they cause to car hoses and wires.
Coincidentally, a vehicle might be parked in a place where a beech marten wants to mark its territory. If the vehicle remains in this spot, it will continue to be marked. To deter beech martens from your car try blocks of WC-cleaner, dog hairs, or anything that has a strong smell or taste. You can also use devices that send out ultrasonic sounds (preferably those that change sound, so the marten does not become desensitized). Having an electric device installed in the engine compartment that puts out a weak shock is another option.(1) This should be done by a professional.
For beech martens in attics
Perhaps the most famous beech marten in media is one that dashed about a football field during a 2013 Swiss League match. A Swiss player gave chase and caught the marten with his bare hands; receiving a proper bite on the finger in return. Unfortunately, nearly every media outlet incorrectly claimed that the animal was a pine marten.(2) This is yet another example of how this broadly applied common name can cause confusion and spread viral misinformation about another species.
Body length: 43–59 cm / 17–23 in (males), 38–40 cm / 15–16 in (females)
Tail length: 25–32 cm /10–12.5 in (males), 23–27.5 cm / 9–11 in (females)
Weight: 1.7–2.1 kg / 4–4.5 lb (males), 1.1–1.5 kg / 2.5–3 lb (females)
Lifespan: Up to 10 years (wild), up to 18 years (captivity)
Range: Most of Europe and central Asia.
Conservation status: Least concern
- M. f. bosniaca
- M. f. bunites
- M. f. foina
- M. f. kozlovi
- M. f. intermedia
- M. f. mediterranea
- M. f. milleri
- M. f. nehringi
- M. f. rosanowi
- M. f. syriaca
- M. f. toufoeus
- Wilhelma zoo “Tips and Advice” https://www.wilhelma.de/en/animals-and-plants/tips-and-advice.html
- The Telegraph on YouTube. (March 2013) “Pine marten invades football pitch and bites player”
- Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Martes foina in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.
#3 European Pine Marten (Martes martes)
The European pine marten, also simply called a pine marten, is native to much of Europe. They are also less commonly known as the baum marten or sweet marten.
A balanced marten without extremes- everything about them seems to be proportionally moderate. They can be told apart from the other small martens by their more boxy muzzle and narrower zygomatic arches (cheek bones), as well as their longer limbs. Their fur is usually dark chocolate brown, varying in depth between individuals. The “bib” (throat patch) is cream to light yellow in colour, varies in size and shape between subspecies, and the number of spots is used to identify individual martens. The ear brims is also cream to light yellow, framing the dark-and light-tipped fur inside.
Light warm brown in colour, long, very dense and silky. The limbs, paws and underside remain dark, while the bib (throat patch) remains light yellow.
Being an omnivore means not being picky and eating whatever is available throughout the seasonal cycle, in addition to hunting prey. The menu consists of small rodents, lagomorphs, birds, carrion, eggs, fish, insects, amphibians, earthworms, mushrooms, and a surprisingly large amount of vegetable matter- during autumn fruit, nuts and berries can make up to 85 % of the diet! The European pine marten’s sweet tooth is well documented by trappers and photographers, who make use of bait in the form of raisins, honey, ficus or jam to lure the otherwise elusive animals out of their safe hiding places, and there have even been a report of a marten going crazy for cake in a ski-slope restaurant.(1) It can be fascinating to learn that carnivores can have unexpected quirks, and for people who wish to interact with martens it is a neat trick to know. Feeding stations are becoming popular in this regard, though it is recommended to be careful with processed and sugary foods and use healthier and more natural alternatives.
-Enemy and alley of squirrels:
Body length: 53 cm / 21 in
Tail length: 25 cm /10 in
Weight: 0.5–1.7 kg / 3.3–3.7 lb
Lifespan: Up to 10 years (wild), up to 17 years (captivity)
Range: Most of Europe, Asia Minor, northern Iraq and Iran, the Caucasus, and in westernmost parts of Russia.
Conservation status: Least concern
- M. m. borealis
- M. m. latinorum
- M. m. lorenzi
- M. m. martes
- M. m. minoricensis
- M. m. notialis
- M. m. ruthena
- M. m. uralensis
#4 Japanese Marten (Martes melampus)
The Japanese marten (Hondoten being their Japanese romanised name) is found on the islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu in Japan. In 1949, the species was introduced to the Sado and Hokkaido Islands to increase fur products.(2) The Japanese marten’s closest relative is the sable, and they both share a similar habitat in Japan.(3)
The Japanese marten’s pelage varies in colour from dark brown to a dull yellow, with a cream or white-coloured throat.(4)(5) Compared to their winter coat, the summer coat is a slightly darker colour overall, with a dark brown mask that partially to completely covers the face. They are sometimes confused with the Malayan weasel while in their winter coat, because of their similar pale-furred face. However, being a species of marten, they are distinctively larger and bulkier than the Malayan weasel. Their nose is also typically black rather than pink.
The Japanese marten is found along the valleys and boreal forests of much of Japan’s mainland.(1)
The diet of Japanese martens varies by season. They are known to consume fruits and berries from spring to autumn, insects in summer and autumn, and small mammals and birds all year round. They have been reported to eat seeds, rabbits, birds, bird eggs, invertebrates, centipedes, spiders, frogs, fish and crustaceans.(5)
Japanese martens play an important role in seed dispersal. Due to their consumption of fruit and seeds, and large home ranges, they are great dispersal vectors in northern climates of Japan where seed dispersal is low.(6)
Threats and conservation efforts
Due to the logging industry, Japanese martens are decreasing in numbers and struggling to rebound in some areas that were previously well-forested. Insularization occurs in some populations, causing changes in foraging and decreasing the genetic pool.(1) Excessive trapping for its fur and agricultural insecticides have also contributed to their decreasing numbers.(3)
In 1971, the Japanese marten was named a Natural Monument Species by the Japanese Agency of Cultural Affairs. Since this declaration, steps have been taken to conserve the species—regulations being put in place to protect female Japanese martens from trapping.(3) Japanese martens also have legal protection on the Tsushima Islands.(7)
Body length: 47–54.5 cm / 18.5–21.5 in
Tail length: 17–22.3 cm / 7–9 in
Weight: 0.5–1.7 kg / 1.0–3.7 lb
Lifespan: Unknown (wild), up to 12 years (captivity)
Range: Much of Japan’s mainland.
Conservation status: Least concern
- M. m. coreensis
- M. m. melampus
- M. m. tsuensis
- Buskirk, Steven (September 1992). “Conserving Circumboreal Forests for Martens and Fishers”
- Hosoda, Tetsuji, et al. “Genetic relationships within and between the Japanese marten Martes melampus and the sable M. zibellina, based on variation of mitochondrial DNA and nuclear ribosomal DNA.” Mammal Study 24.1 (1999): 25-33.
- Otsu, S. “Winter Food of Japanese Yellow Marten, Martes melampus melampus (Temminck et Schelegel), in Yamagata Prefecture.” Japanese Journal of Applied Entomology and Zoology 16 (1972): 75-78.
- Anderson, Elaine. “Quaternary evolution of the genus Martes (Carnivora, Mustelidae).” Acta Zoologica Fennica 130 (1970): 127-132.
- Tatara, Masaya, and Teruo Doi. “Comparative analyses on food habits of Japanese marten, Siberian weasel and leopard cat in the Tsushima islands, Japan.” Ecological research 9.1 (1994): 99-107.
- Otani, Tatsuya. “Seed dispersal by Japanese marten Martes melampus in the subalpine shrubland of northern Japan.” Ecological Research 17.1 (2002): 29-38.
- Schreiber, Arnd. Weasels, civets, mongooses, and their relatives: an action plan for the conservation of mustelids and viverrids. Vol. 3. IUCN, 1989.
- Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Martes melampus in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.
#5 Nilgiri Marten (Martes gwatkinsii)
The Nilgiri marten is native to southern India.
The Nilgiri marten’s coat colour is deep brown from head to tail, with a yellow to orange throat patch. They look similar in appearance to the yellow-throated marten, but are distinguished by their slightly larger size, flatter skull structure, and prominent frontal concavity.(1) Unlike the Nilgiri marten, the yellow-throated marten also typically has yellow fur that runs from the neck to as far back as the hips.
They are endemic to the hills of the Nilgiris and parts of the Western Ghats of Southern India.(1)
Nilgiri martens are thought to be diunral, and only descend to the ground for hunting and foraging. They tend to live in moist tropical rainforests of southern India, and prefer altitudes of of 300 to 1200 meters. They are known to be social animals and even hunt in groups.(1)
The diet of the Nilgiri marten mostly consists of small mammals and birds, but they are also known to hunt reptiles and insects. They have been reported to consume crows, Indian giant squirrels, chevrotains, monitor lizards, and cicadas. In addition, they are known to consume honey, and as well as a variety of fruits.(1)
Body length: 55–65 cm / 22–26 in
Tail length: 40–45 cm / 16–18 in
Weight: 2.1 kg / 4.6 lb
Lifespan: Unknown (wild), up to 14 years (captivity)
Range: Travancore Kerala, Nilgiris, Kodagu north up to the Charmadi ghats, Karnataka.
Conservation status: Vulnerable
- Webb, A. 2013. “Martes gwatkinsii” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 06, 2021.
#6 Pacific Marten (Martes caurina)
The Pacific marten is found in western North America. They were formally considered conspecific with the American marten, but molecular investigations now support they are both distinct species from one another.(1)
The similarities with the American marten are many and so striking that even the most detail-oriented of us have trouble telling them apart. A close comparison of the skulls reveals that the Pacific marten has a broader and flatter head overall, which is the most noticeable in the zygomatic arches (cheek bones).(2)
According to the Alaska Department of Wildlife Fish and Game, Pacific martens in Alaska consume voles, salmon, berries, birds, vegetation and dead deer.(3)
Humboldt marten: an endangered subspecies
The Humboldt marten, also known as the coastal marten (Martes caurina humboldtensis), is an endangered subspecies of the Pacific marten that was once common in northern California and southern Oregon. They were thought to be extinct until being rediscovered in the Six Rivers National Forest in 1996.(4)
Habitat loss, legal trapping, and vehicular fatalities have contributed to the decline of the Humboldt marten’s numbers.(5) In 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the Humboldt marten will receive protection as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.(6)
Body length: 48–65 cm / 19–25 in
Weight: 1.8 kg / 4 lb
Lifespan: Unknown (wild), unknown (captivity)
Range: Western United States, coastal islands of Vancouver, Queen Charlotte, Admiralty, and Kuiu.
Conservation status: N/A
- M. c. caurina (Merriam)
- M. c. humboldtensis (Grinnell and Dixon)
- M. c. nesophila (Osgood)
- M. c. origenes (Rhoads)
- M. c. sierrae (Grinnell and Storer)
- M. c. vancouverensis (Grinnell and Dixon)
- M. c. vulpina (Rafinesque)
- Colella, Jocelyn P., Ellie J. Johnson, and Joseph A. Cook. “Reconciling molecules and morphology in North American Martes“. Journal of Mammalogy 99.6 (2018): 1323-1335.
- Aubry, Keith B., et al., eds. “Biology and conservation of martens, sables, and fishers: a new synthesis“. Cornell University Press. (2012): 24-27. Page 25, figure 2.1.
- Shepherd, Peter and Melchior, Herb. Alaskan Department of Fish and Game. (2008) “Marten“. Accessed April 22, 2020.
- Moriarty, Katie M. “Distribution of Pacific marten in coastal Oregon”. Northwestern Naturalist 97.2 (2016): 71-81.
- Linnell, Mark A., et al. “Density and population viability of coastal marten: a rare and geographically isolated small carnivore“. PeerJ 6 (2018): e4530.
- Center for Biological Diversity. 01 September, 2020. “Humboldt Martens Receive Long-awaited Endangered Species Act Protection“. Accessed 28 July, 2021.
- Powell, Roger A., Steven W. Buskirk, and William J. Zielinski. “Fisher and marten“. Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Conservation, p. 635-649 (2003). p. 635.
#7 Sable (Martes zibellina)
The sable inhabits northern Europe and parts of northern Asia. They are the only members of genus Martes that do not have “marten” in their common name. In regions where both the sable and the European pine marten occur, interbreeding gives birth to hybrids known as “kiduses”(1) or “kidases”.
Sables have a slender muzzle, a wide head with pronounced zygomatic arches (cheek bones), the proportionally largest ears of all mustelids and a short tail compared to the other martens. It is easy to think of the sable as a chubby, fur-bearing animal given their use in the fur industry and the cold climate of their habitat. This is due to their thick and attractive winter coat, which can alter their actual shapes dramatically: in summer, the legs seem to elongate, and they appear almost comical with their slender bodies in contrast to their large heads, ears and paws. Their coat can be black, dark brown or light brown with a lighter, grey-tinted head and the characteristic “bib” (throat patch) is reduced to a small blotch that ranges from light yellow to apricot and ochre in colour.
Sables are solitary and arboreal in habits, living in dense forests of larch, spruce, cedar, pine and birch in both lowland and mountainous terrain. They live in burrows near riverbanks in dense parts of woods. These burrows are commonly made more secure by being dug among tree roots.(2)
Having broad paws covered with dense fur, sables can climb trees well, though they prefer to prey on the ground; hunting various rodents and birds. Hunting primarily by both sound and scent, sables are omnivores, and their diet varies seasonally. In the summer, they eat hares and other small mammals. In winter, they feed mostly on wild berries, rodents, hares, and small musk deer. They are also known to prey on other mustelids such as weasels. They also occasionally eat fish and carrion.(2)
Historically, sables were hunted for their highly valued fur, and continues to remain a luxury good to this day. Sable fur was once considered the most prized fur in Russia, until the discovery of the sea otter in the Kamchatka peninsula in the 1740s, whose warmer, silver-tipped fur was considered even more valuable.(4)(5) The term “sable” is commonly used as a generic description for some black-furred animal breeds.
In social media
There are many videos of a rescued sable named Buddy being uploaded to the social discussion platforms Twitter and Reddit. Beware of the comments section on both of these, as you will come across many inaccurate claims and guesses over what the animal is. Though rarely credited, the original creator of these videos and caretaker of the sable can be found on the Instagram account SableBuddy. You can also find videos of Buddy on the YouTube account BuddyPositive.
Body length: 38–56 cm / 15–22 in (males), 35–51 cm / 14–20 in (females)
Tail length: 9–12 cm / 3.5–4.7 in (males), 7.2–11.5 cm / 2.8–4.5 in (females)
Weight: 0.88–1.8 kg / 1.94–3.97 lb
Lifespan: Up to 8 years (wild), up to 18 years (captivity)
Range: Most of Asia and northeastern Europe.
Conservation status: Least concern
- M. z. angarensis
- M. z. arsenjevi
- M. z. averini
- M. z. brachyura
- M. z. ilimpiensis
- M. z. jakutensis
- M. z. kamtschadalica
- M. z. obscura
- M. z. princeps
- M. z. sahalinensis
- M. z. sajanensis
- M. z. schantaricus
- M. z. tomensis
- M. z. tungussensis
- M. z. yeniseensis
- M. z. zibellina
- Monakhov, V.G. (2011). “Martes zibellina (Carnivora: Mustelidae)”. Mammalian Species. 43 (1): 75–86. doi:10.1644/876.1.
- The trapper’s guide: a manual of instructions for capturing all kinds of fur-bearing animals, and curing their skins; with observations on the fur-trade, hints on life in the woods, and narratives of trapping and hunting excursions by Sewell Newhouse, edited by John Humphrey Noyes, published by Oneida Community, 1867
- Heptner, V. G., and A. A. Sludskii. “Mammals of the Soviet Union. Vol. II, part 1b, Carnivores (Mustelidae and Procyonidae).” Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Libraries and National Science Foundation (2002).
- Lincoln, W. Bruce. The conquest of a continent: Siberia and the Russians. Cornell University Press, 2007.
- Pethick, Derek. First approaches to the Northwest coast. Jj Douglas, 1976.
- Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Martes zibellina in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.
#8 Yellow-Throated Marten (Martes flavigula)
The yellow-throated marten, also known as the kharza, is native to much of southeast Asia.
The yellow-throated marten has unique brightly colored fur, consisting of a blend of black, white, golden-yellow and brown. It has relatively short fur compared to the European pine marten, sable, and beech marten. Yellow-throated martens can sometimes have one or more digits on their front paws be white, cream, or yellowish in colour.
They have a rather large range. Some individuals travel up to 20 km in a single day, while others travel less. In Thailand, they are known to travel around 1 km per day, and have an annual range of 7.2 sq km. They prefer mixed forests composed of spruce and broad-leaved trees. In the northern part of their range, yellow-throated martens also inhabit coniferous taiga. In the southern part of their range, they inhabit lowland swamps and marshes as well as treeless mountains in Northern India, Pakistan, and Nepal.(1)
Yellow-throated martens are bold animals and shows little fear of humans or dogs, and are easily tamed. When they encounter a noisy crowd of people, they are slow to flee. Little is known about their communication. It has been observed that they are social animals that travel and hunt in groups of 2 or more, making communication very likely.(1)
The diet of yellow-throated martens varies with location and season. Those living north of their range prey upon musk deer, which they hunt in groups. They surround their prey, increasing their chances of a successful hunt. Many other in different regions consume rats, mice, hares, snakes, langurs, small species of ungulates, cats, panda cubs, lizards, eggs, squirrels, birds, insects, nuts, and fruit. They do not however, eat carrion like other martens. They may even prey upon their smaller cousin the sable in regions where their range overlap.(1)
Body length: 50–71.9 cm / 19.7–28.3 in (males), 50–62 cm / 20–24 in (females)
Tail length: 37–45 cm / 14.5–18 in
Weight: 2.5–5.7 kg / 5.5–12.6 lb (males), 1.6–3.8 kg / 3.5–8.4 lb (females)
Lifespan: Unknown (wild), up to 16 years (captivity)
Range: Throughout Southern and Eastern Asia.
Conservation status: Least concern
- M. f. borealis
- M. f. chrysospila
- M. f. flavigula
- M. f. hainana
- M. f. henrici
- M. f. indochinensis
- M. f. peninsularis
- M. f. robinsoni
- M. f. saba