Japanese Marten: Profile and Information

Japanese Marten

The Japanese marten (Martes melampus) is the most closely related mammal in the marten genus to sable.

It is usually 0.5 m (1.5 ft) in length, not including a 20-cm-long tail (7.9 in and between 1,000 and 1500 grams (2.2 and 3.3 lb) in weight.

Males usually are larger than females. The colour of the pelage ranges from dark brown to dull yellow with a cream-coloured throat.

Both female and male Japanese marten are territorial, and the extent of each individual’s territory depends on the availability of food.

Like all mustelids, martens have sharp teeth, strong jaws and a powerful bite.

They are agile predators. Japanese Martens use scent to track their prey, although their hearing is also well-developed.

Rats and mice are probably the most preyed upon the animal, but frogs may also be eaten.

Some eat a high proportion of insects or other invertebrates, others primarily fruit or honey.

The Japanese marten is omnivorous, preferring meat from fish, frogs and small birds and rodents, but eating insects, fruit and seeds when required.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Mustelidae
  • Genus: Martes
  • Species: Martes melampus


Martens are weasel-like animals but much larger and more powerfully built. Males are 45-49 cm long (females 41-43 cm) and the tail adds another 17-20 cm.

They weigh 1.3-5 kg. In winter they have orange fur and a white face, often with paler fur at the throat. In the summer, the coat changes and the face turns black.

The two confirmed Japanese marten subspecies are:

  • M. m. Melampus lives on a variety of Japanese islands.
  • M. m. Tsuensis is located on the island of Tsushima

It has been reported in the southern Korean Peninsula, but no locality details indicate the wild origin and no native population has been confirmed.


Shortly after being sexually mature, juveniles attempt to build areas. Japanese male martens had an average home range of 0.70 square km, and females had an average of 0.63 square km with less than 10% overlap between any two home ranges.

The size of the relatively limited home range can depend on food abundance and distribution within the preferred habitat. Scats in a doughnut-shaped distribution were found mainly in home range peripheries.

By scent marking, a typical social activity in mustelids, scat positioning confirms the successful protection of boundaries. Japanese Martens has been observed jumping into a tree up to 2 m away from the ground.

Reproduction and life-cycle

Japanese Marten

The breeding season of Japanese martens is between March and the middle of May. Typically they produce one offspring; however, they may have up to five kits per mating season.

The offspring are usually born blind and deaf. As a mammal, the female provides milk for her young offspring, but by 3–4 months of age, the kits will hunt and soon leave their mother.

Sexual development develops between 1 and 2 years of age. The average life span in the wild is uncertain, although the specimen has been in captivity for a little more than 12 years.

Young martens also try to develop their territories after reaching maturity. They mark their territories with fragrance labelling.


Japanese martens live in the boreal forests of most of Japan’s mainland. In the winter, martens prefer to go to the forest where they can get the most prey.

They like to choose well-established forests because of the way creatures specialize and because of their long life span. As such, martens are likely to be useful in determining the health of the forest.

However, their habitat and diet become much more common in the summer, allowing them to survive in a much more varied climate.

Geographical Range

Japanese martens can be found on the islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu in Japan. Martes Melampus was introduced from Honshu to the Sado and Hokkaido Islands in Japan in 1949 to increase fur products.

Its distribution is southwest of Hokkaido, specifically the low altitude areas of the Oshima Peninsula and Ishikari. Still, research is required to confirm its distribution.

Japanese martens are sparsely distributed in the Tsushima Islands of Japan. Japanese martens are found in North Korea on the mainland of South Korea.

Feeding Habits

Martes Melampus is very common. However, it can be characterized as an opportunistic eater. During the year, it eats a very diverse range of foods.

Important foods include fruit and berries from spring to fall, insects in summer and autumn, and small mammals and birds all year round.

It is likely to interact with other small mammal carnivores. Foodstuffs eaten include plants (mostly berries and seed).

Japanese martens adapt their eating habits to local plant phenology. In the presence of interspecific rivals or human disturbance, alternative food sources are changed, making them more adaptable than Siberian Weasel and Felis bengalensis, which are more prey-specific. Omnivore’s main diet

Animal Foods mammals amphibians fish insects terrestrial arthropods molluscs terrestrial worms aquatic crustaceans


Den selection is the most evident adaptation of the defence against predation. Japanese martens rest in the dens of the tree and the earth.

Five adults were found killed by wild dogs, and 38 were killed in car crashes between 1986 and 1989 (Tatara and Doi 1994). Humans are already trapping it. Citizens of well-known Predators (Homo sapiens)

However, the populations of Japanese martens can be reduced by human hunting. Japanese martens affect local populations of small mammals and birds, and it affects the dispersal of seeds, etc.

Japanese martens are hunted for fur from 1 December to 31 January, except in the Hokkaido and Tsushima Islands, where it is protected. It is illegal to hunt females, a restriction that helps to maintain the population.

Japanese martens predation of Japanese Hare is beneficial to the timber industry as a result of Japanese Hare can destroy the quality of the tree.

Conservation status

Japanese martens is a species of concern due to pressure from human activity in recent years, which has led to major changes in Japan’s natural environment.

It is decreasing in number due to the excessive trapping of its fur and the adverse effects of agricultural insecticides. However, females are safe from trapping.

In 1971, Japanese Marten was named a vulnerable Natural Monument Species by the Japan Cultural Affairs Agency, which approved its designation as vulnerable by the IUCN.

This subspecies is now legally protected on the Tsushima Islands. Although the Tsushima Islands are 88 per cent forested, 34 per cent of the forests are coniferous.

Japanese Martens may not be common in these plantations. Japanese Martens was found to have been killed by a vehicle, and five more were found to have been killed by wild dogs.

Further habitat degradation by forestry practices and road development, as well as the system for the management of feral dogs, should be considered in the conservation plan for this subspecies.

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