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Fragile Legacy


Endangered, Threatened & Rare Animals of South Dakota


Marten (Martes americana)


JPG--species photo species distribution map
Status: State Rare

Description: The marten is an arboreal (tree-dwelling) [Editor's Note: Although once thought to be arboreal, snow tracking studies of martens clearly show martens to be primarily terrestrial (deVos 1952, Hawley and Newby 1957). The stereotypical practice of climbing trees to escape potential predators (Raine 1982, Pulliainen 1981) may explain early anecdotal accounts of martens as being arboreal.] weasel with a bushy tail, golden brown to dark brown fur, a lighter colored head and a yellow to cream-colored throat patch. The soles of its feet are furred. Males measure 24-26 inches (61-66 cm) in length and weigh 1.5-3 pounds (750-1250 g). Females are 21-23 inches (53-58 cm) long and weigh 1.5-2 pounds (681-851 g).

Habitat and Habits: This animal prefers dense, mixed deciduous or mature coniferous forests. Martens use ground burrows, rock piles and crevices, hollow trees, stumps, downfalls and brush, which provide refuge and winter access to sub-snow vegetation galleries and rodent prey. Large open areas appear to inhibit movement, with home ranges often coinciding with edges of topographic features (streams) or vegetation features (meadows).

Peak periods of activity are dawn and dusk in summer, and during the day in winter. Martens are active both on the ground and in trees, but are rarely seen, even where fairly common. Habitat selection depends on abundance of available prey. Martens are opportunistic feeders on many items, including red-backed voles, squirrels, chipmunks, shrews, hares, carrion and occasionally insects, berries and birds. Martens employ a variety of tactics to secure food; they will track or ambush prey, rob nests or excavate burrows.

The marten breeding period is from late summer to early fall. Typically, 3-4 kits (range 15) are born in the spring in a natal den, usually located in a tree cavity lined with moss, grass or other vegetation. At 7-8 weeks, a female may move her kits to a log den at ground-level. Males sexually mature at 1 year, females at 1-2 years. Males apparently are not directly involved in rearing young, although their territorial defense may indirectly help the female in providing for the young. [Editor's Note: Martens maintain intrasexually exclusive home ranges (Hawley and Newby 1957, Francis and Stephenson 1972, Bissonette et al. 1988).]

Distribution: The marten occurs throughout Canada and Alaska, south through the Rockies, in the Cascades and Pacific Coast mountain ranges, in the northern Great Lakes region and in northern New England. Suitable habitat in South Dakota exists in the Black Hills region.

Conservation Measures: The marten has declined or been eliminated throughout portions of its range since the turn of the century because of habitat loss through timber harvest, increased human settlement and vulnerability to trapping. Pelts are known in the fur trade as American or Canadian sable.

Natural reestablishment and reintroduction have helped to increase marten populations in suitable habitat. Prohibition of logging and trapping may be necessary to assure recovery of marten populations.

In 1980 and 1981, in a cooperative effort by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, the South Dakota Trappers Association and the U.S. Forest Service, the marten was introduced into Lawrence County. Reproduction has since been documented in the South Dakota marten population.

Literature Cited
Editor's Notes and Literature Sources Courtesy of Gary S. Drew, Ph.D

Bissonette J. A., R. J. Fredrickson, and B. J. Tucker.  1988.                                                            
     The effects of forest harvesting on marten and small mammals 
     in western Newfoundland.  Report prepared for the Newfoundland and 
     Labrador Wildlife Division, and Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Company, 
     Limited.  Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Utah State
     University, Logan, UT.  109 pp.

de Vos, A.  1952.  Preliminary live trapping studies of marten.  
     J. Wildl. Manage.  16:207-214.

Francis, G. R., and Stephenson, A. B.  1972.  Marten ranges and food
     habits in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario.  
     Ministry of Natural Resources Research Report 91, 53 pp.

Hawley, V. D., and Newby, F. E.  1957.  Marten homeranges and 
     population fluctuations.  J. Mammal.  38:174-184.

Pulliainen, E.  1981.  Winter habitat selection, home range, 
     and movements of the pine marten, Martes martes in a 
     Finnish Lapland forest.  In  Proceedings of the Worldwide 
     Furbearer Conference, Frostburg, MD.  Edited by, J. A. Chapman
     and D. Pursley.  R. R. Donnelley and Sons Company, Falls 
     Church, Virginia.  pp. 1068-1087 

Raine, R. M.  1982.  Ranges of juvenile fisher, Martes pennanti,
     and marten, Martes americana, in southeastern Manatoba.  
     Can. Field-Nat. 96:431-438.

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