The marten has often been referred to as “opportunistic” when it comes to its food habits (Chapman & Feldhamer, 1982; Pickett). Small mammals, such as mice and voles, birds, insects, and fruit make up the main diet of a marten. Foods preferrences can be somewhat linked to seasons. In all seasons, but particularly the winter, martens prefer voles & mice (such as the red-backed vole (Clethrionomys gapperi)), but have also been known to search for ground squirrels, chipmunks and snowshoe hares. In early summer, they take advantage of small birds and their freshly laid eggs. Late summer brings an abundance of fruits and berries, of which blueberries are preferred, being the most easily accessible to the marten. Insects are also consumed throughout the year, but are in abundance in early fall (Chapman & Feldhamer, 1982). As up to 80% of a marten’s diet is animal prey, they spend much of their time foraging for food, both in trees and on the forest floor. In the winter, martens will tunnel under the snow, usually near felled logs, to track mice and voles, and have been known to cache food (Pickett 2003). Martens will travel great distances, even retracing their own tracks, looking in every crevice, log, stump, or tunnel for food (Snyder, 1991).
Mating, Reproduction & Birth:
Martens mate in the summer months, usually June to August (Nowak, 1991). Martens are polygamous and females will often mate with more than one male in a season. They also will mate several times during a given day (Chapman & Feldhamer, 1982). Females tend to become more aggressive during mating, as do males who often fight with other males to mate with a female (Chapman & Feldhamer, 1982). To attract a mate, females will urinate or use their abdominal scent glands to mark the ground. They will also become very vocal; grunting, screaming, or growling to attract a male. According to work gathered by Chapman & Feldhamer (1982, courtships can last as long as 15 days, during which much wrestling and playing occurs between potential mates. Once a mate is chosen, a male will grab the female’s skin from behind with its teeth and may hold on to or drag her around for up to 30 minutes before coitus begins. The act of mating itself can last for up to 90 minutes (Chapman & Feldhamer, 1982). After successful mating has occurred, the female becomes more aggressive towards the male and runs him off (Parker, 1990). Male martens do not participate any further than mating and have no role in child rearing (Chapman & Feldhamer, 1982).
A female marten’s pregnancy is an interesting process. Once an egg is fertilized, implantation is delayed and the egg remains as a blastocyst in the female’s uterus for 190-250 days (Chapman & Feldhamer, 1982). In February, the fertilized egg implants itself into the female marten’s uterus, and development takes about 28 days (Nowak, 1991). Infant martens are born live usually between March and April (Chapman & Feldhamer, 1982). On average, a marten will give birth to 2.6 babies, with a range of 1-5 (Nowak, 1991). The ratio of male to female births is 53:47; a pretty even distribution (Chapman & Feldhamer, 1982). At birth, a baby marten will be 3.6-4.8 inches long and weigh about one ounce. They are blind, deaf, and toothless, but already will have a thick coat of smooth fur. Mother martens look after their young for several months, not allowing them to leave the nest for at least two months, allowing the babies to suckle for nourishment (Parker, 1990). A marten baby will be weaned at six weeks of age (Pickett 2003) and, at 3.5 to 4 months old, a marten reaches its physical maturity and the mother will leave. A female marten will only have one litter per year (Buskirk & Zielinski, 1998). Despite being full size and mature at 4 months, a marten will not reach sexual maturity until 15-24 months of age. Martens can continue to be sexually reproductive up to 12 years in the wild (Nowak, 1991) or to at least 15 years of age if kept in captivity (Chapman & Feldhamer, 1982). In the wild, a marten’s life expectancy is in the range of 8-10 years, but can live as long as 15 to 17 years in captivity (Parker, 1990).
As mentioned earlier, martens are rather solitary creatures, except during mating season (Chapman & Feldhamer, 1982). The population distribution of a marten’s home range is about .5 to 1.7 martens per sq mile of good habitat (Nowak, 1991). Males are more exclusionary that females, they have wider territories (one male every 2-3 km) and will exclude most males. However, they are less likely to exclude other female martens (who range one every 1 km) and sightings in the wild have seen a male and a female traveling together (Chapman & Feldhamer, 1982). Male martens are most active in the dusk and evening. Females tend to be more active during the day and at dusk. Their activity is most dependent upon availability of food. Martens are very agile and energetic, often running up and down the forest floor, or through trees. They are also effective swimmers, being able to swim well underwater (Chapman & Feldhamer, 1982). As stated earlier, marten’s preferred resting and hunting areas are in felled and rotting logs, stumps and burrows. They do not like open fields as there is little protection provided from predators or adverse weather, but they will be seen perching on cut off tree tops in open spaces sunning themselves, or using the perch to get a good look around (Spencer, 1987). Martens are very curious creatures and it’s this trait that makes them easy to trap by hunters (Chapman & Feldhamer, 1982). A discussion of human impact on marten populations will be addressed later.