American Marten: Profile and Information

American Marten

The American pine marten (Martes americana), also called American marten, is a species of North American mammal belonging to the Mustelidae family.

The species is often referred to simply as the pine marten. The word “pine marten” is derived from the common name of the distinct Eurasian species Martes Tuesday.

The American marten differs from the fisherman (Pekania pennanti) in that it is smaller in size and lighter in colour.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia 
  • Phylum: Chordata 
  • Class: Mammalia 
  • Order: Carnivora 
  • Family: Mustelidae 
  • Genus:  Martes 
  • Species: M. Americana


  • M. a. Americana
  • M. a. abieticola
  • M. a. abietinoides
  • M. a. actuosa
  • M. a. atrata
  • M. a. brumalis
  • M. a. caurina
  • M. a. humboldtensis
  • M. a. kenaiensis
  • M. a. nesophila
  • M. a. origensis
  • M. a. sierrae
  • M. a. vancouverensis
  • M. a. vulpina

Geographical Range and Habitat

American martens, Martes americana, can be found in the northern regions of North America. The species is found from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia west to Alaska and south to parts of the rocky mountain range and California.

Martens is found sporadically in areas of the state of New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Maine, and Wisconsin.

While numbers were higher in the southeastern portion of the species in Colonial times, the loss of forest habitat in these areas has reduced their range.

Programs for the reintroduction of these animals in Minnesota and Ontario may help the population to recover.

Martes americana is predominantly found in mature northern forests. These animals are closely found in lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, spruce and mixed hardwood forests.

They can be found in structurally complex, mature forests and may occur at all elevations where such habitat exists. They lie in hollow logs, crevices, or empty earth burrows.

Description and Physical Characteristics

Male American martens can be 360 to 450 mm in length, and the tail adds 150 to 230 mm or more. Male weights vary from 470 to 1,300 g.

Females are slightly smaller and weigh less, with head-body lengths between 320 and 400 mm and tails between 135 and 200 mm. Females weigh between 280 and 850 g.

It’s has a long and shiny fur. The head is tan, the legs and tail are very dark brown or black, the chest has a cream-coloured patch, and the back is light brown.

American martens are long, lean creatures. The eyes are wide, and the ears are cat-like. The claws are sharp, curved.


Mating was described as polygynous. During estrus, females use fragrance marks for advertising their sexual state.

The courtship between males and females can be very long and includes tumbling, playing and wrestling.

In captivity, females reportedly experience between 1 and 4 cycles of sexual receptivity, each lasting from 1 to 4 days. These occur at intervals of 6 to 17 days during the breeding season. They’re polygynous, man.

The breeding season is from June to August. The implantation of fertilised eggs is delayed and will not take place until February.

While the average pregnancy period is between 220 and 275 days, after implantation in the uterine lining, embryos mature for only 28 days.

1 to 5 blind young (kits) is born at the end of March or the beginning of April in dens lined with dried plant material. Young ones grow fast. The eyes are open by the age of 39 days.

After 42 days, the young martens are weaned. American Marten kits reach Full size 3.5 months after birth. Sexual maturity is achieved between 15 and 24 months of age. Weaning occurs in 42 days.

In northwest Maine, kits were active but poorly organised at 7 to 8 weeks, with coordination at 12 to 15 weeks.

Kits usually remain in the company of their mother until the end of their first season and can separate through the fall. Females can breed at intervals of 6-17 days four times in a season. Breeding season happens once a year.

Details on the parenting actions of these animals are not readily available. However, as mammals, we know that the female nurses her offspring and offers them protection and a home for the first part of their lives.

Although the role of males in parental care is not clear, adult males and females have been seen along with immature animals, possibly their offspring.

While American martens are largely solitary, it is still likely that males may have some association with their offspring during rearing.

Lifespan and Longevity

American martens can live in captivity for up to 17 years. While martens in the wild probably do not live as long as those in captivity, wild females are still able to breed at the age of 12.


Martes americana is typically lonely and nocturnal. Occasionally, they have been seen in male/female pairs, and have also been seen with young dependents.

American martens are very arboreal (tree-dwelling) and travel quickly in the forest. They mark the fragrance of paths from tree to tree with their heavy scented glands.

Despite this, much of their hunting is stated to be on the ground. Most hunting takes place at dusk and dawn when the prey species are the most involved. Besides, these species are swimmers and can dive.

Home range sizes differ considerably with habitat density and prey density. Population densities of 1.7 martens per square kilometre are typical in good habitat but fall to 0.4 martens per square kilometre in poor habitat. Martes americana doesn’t hibernate and is busy all winter.

American martens are the most active in the night. Most of them hunt at dawn and dusk when the prey animals are most active. Males and females are often seen together but tend to spend their time alone.

American martens spend a lot of their time in the forest, but most of them hunt on the ground. They mark the fragrance of paths from tree to tree with their heavy scented glands. They swim and dive well too.

Home range sizes differ considerably with habitat density and prey density. American martens do not hibernate and are busy all winter.

Home ranges of 8.1 km2 for males and 2.3 km2 for females are recorded.

American martens have complicated means of contact. In addition to the fragrance marking so typical in Mustelidae, vocalisations are used (huffs, chuckles, and screams).

Physical contact is necessary for both mates and mothers and their offspring. The role of visual cues in communication has not been documented, but body postures play an important role in communication in many Mustelids.

In this respect, these animals may be identical to other members of their families.

Feeding Habits

Martes americana is a very opportunistic feeder. The diet consists mainly of small mammals, including squirrels and rodents.

Occasionally birds, fruit, nuts, insects and carrion are also consumed. Usually, American martens kill their prey with a fast, powerful bite on the back of the prey animal’s neck.

American martens sometimes have fast-paced hunts in trees with a favourite prey item, red squirrels. Voles dominate diets throughout the geographical range of American martens.

Although larger prey—especially snowshoe hares—may be important, particularly in winter. American marten diet may vary seasonally or annually.

In general, the diet is more varied in summer than in winter, with summer diets containing more fruit, other vegetation and insects.

Diet is generally more diverse in the eastern and southern parts of the distribution of American marten than in the western part. However, there is a high diversity in the Pacific States.

American marten has the least dietary diversity in the subarctic. However, diversity may also be low in areas where the diet is dominated by large prey species (e.g. snowshoe hares or red squirrels).

American marten may be important seed dispersers; seeds generally pass through the untouched animal, and seeds are likely to germinate.

One study from Chichagof Island, southeast Alaska, found that Alaska blueberry and oval leaf huckleberry seeds had higher germination rates after passing through the intestine of American marten compared to seeds that had dropped from the parent plant.

Analysis of American marten movement and seed passage rates suggested that American marten could disperse long-distance seeds: 54% of the distances analysed were >0.3-mile (0.5 km).


Predators were not identified for American martens. Young martens, however, are likely to be vulnerable to large carnivores such as wolves or owls.

As hunters, American martens may have a major effect on the prey population, helping to organise the forest ecosystem.

This species may probably be considered a pest since it limits the population of game species such as squirrels and rabbits. However, they live in areas that are typically sparsely inhabited by humans and are unlikely to harm humans.

Pelt collection has depleted populations in many areas of the species range. Destruction of coniferous forest ecosystems has also contributed to a decline in numbers.

Despite these threats, American martens are not considered to be endangered.

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