The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Ferret
Story Of The Chipmunk
Story Of The Cavy
Story Of The Marten
Story Of The Lemur
Story Of The Echidna
Story Of The Mink
Story Of The Wapi
Story Of The Wolverine
Story Of The Skunk
Read More Articles About: The Story Of Wild Animals
Story Of The Marten
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
My experience with martens has shown me that they are among the most bloodthirsty of the small animals. They are closely related to the smaller polecats, stoats and weasels. The well-known European pine-marten, or yellow-breasted marten, is the typical representative of the family. They are of comparatively large size, and may be compared in this respect to the domestic cat. In all of them the body is much lengthened, although to a less degree than is the case with the polecats and weasels. The mar-tens are found only in the Northern Hemisphere, and range far to the north-wards; one species, however, occurring as far south as India and the Malayan region.
The pine-marten has a total length of from 25 to 30 inches, of which from 16 to 18 inches are occupied by the head and body, and from 9 to 12 inches by the tail, inclusive of the hair at its extremity. As in the other members of this group, the muzzle is sharply pointed, with the nose extending a little beyond the lips; and the ears are thickly covered with hair on both sides. Beneath the glossy outer fur there is a thick coat of under-fur; and the soles of the feet have a thick coat of fur between the bare pads.
The pine-marten is characterised by the rich brown color of the fur, and the reddish gray tint and yellow tips of the under-fur; the light-colored fur on the throat and chest varying in tint from yellowish white to a bright orange. The range of this species includes a large portion of Northern Europe and Asia; and in former years the animal was common in the British Isles, where it is now restricted to the wilder districts. From the specific designation of this marten, it would naturally be supposed that it exhibits an especial predilection for pine-forests. This, however, does not appear to be the case, and it would seem that the name was given merely from the circumstances that pine forests are abundant in many of the districts which it inhabits.
Like the other members of the group, it is chiefly tree-frequenting in its habits, and thereby differs markedly from the weasels, which are more fond of the ground. Creeping from branch to branch in silent and stealthy pursuit of birds, squirrels, and other small animals, their sharp and long claws afford them a firm and secure hold of the bark, whilst the long and somewhat bushy tail aids them in maintaining their balance on the boughs; the ears, too, are large and open, a circumstance which is of great advantage to them in discovering and pursuing their prey, amidst the dense foliage in which they love to conceal themselves. Martens will, however, frequently descend to the ground, when they will destroy mice, rats, and moles, as well as rabbits and hares, and, it is said, even lambs. They are also deadly enemies to domestic poultry of all kinds; while in the neighbor-hood of the sea-coast they are also reported to feed on mussels. When domesticated, it is said on good authority that they will eat fruit.
Although it was long considered that the beech-marten was also found in the British Islands, it is now ascertained that the present species is the only member of the group that has ever occurred there. In the wilder districts of Scotland, as well as in the north of England, Wales, and Ireland, the marten still holds its own; while specimens are occasionally captured in districts where it is now practically extinct.
The beech or white-breasted marten, formerly supposed to be an in-habitant of the British Islands, is generally of a greyish brown color, al-though the tint may vary from a whitish brown to deep blackish brown, with the tail and limbs generally darker than the body. The light area on the throat and chest, which may vary considerably in extent in different individuals, is invariably white; while the color of the under-fur varies from ashy to pure white. The length of the head and body is about 18 inches, and that of the tail, with the hair at the end, 13 inches.
This species is a more southern form than the last, being widely distributed in Europe, but not reaching either the British Islands or Scandinavia; while to the eastward it extends into Asia as far as Turkestan and the Eastern Himalaya. In the latter districts examples have been procured from Afghanistan in the west to Sikhim in the east, and also from Kumaun and Ladak; further eastwards it appears to be unknown. Throughout the Himalaya it is generally found at considerable elevations, although descending as low as five thousand feet in the Gilgit district. It inhabits the whole of Central Europe and Italy, the warmer parts of European Russia as far as the Urals, as well as the Crimea; the western and northern slopes of the Caucasus, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor. It appears, however, to be unknown in Persia.
Over the greater part of Europe this marten is a commoner animal than the pine-marten, which it also exceeds in the greater boldness of its disposition. Although it is a frequenter of woods and trees, it is also found not uncommonly among rocks and stones, and hence receives its German name of steinmarder. In barren districts like Ladak this marten must, of course, nearly always dwell among rocks. From its bold disposition it is frequently found in the neighborhood of human habitations, where it inflicts much damage on poultry.
In its general mode of life the species closely resembles the pine-marten. The nest is carefully formed of hay and straw, and situated in a hole in a tree, in the crannies between rocks, or in an old barn or granary. The young, generally from four to five in number, are born about the month of April, and are blind for the first fortnight of their existence.
Its wanderings at night during the summer are extensive; and no dovecot however lofty it may be is safe when there is a marten anywhere in the neighborhood. The food of this species is much the same as that of the last, although in inhabited districts including more domesticated animals it feeds on mice, rats, rabbits, and all kinds of birds; and, when dwelling woods, hunts and kills squirrels, lizards, and frogs. It likewise eats fruits of various kinds, such as cherries and plums; and in some parts of the Continent is considered to do so much harm to orchards that the stems of the trees are washed with tobacco-juice or petroleum in order to prevent the marten from ascending them. Like all its kindred, the beech-marten is, for its size, an exceedingly bloodthirsty creature, and will often kill more than it can devour.
These animals utter a kind of mewing sound not unlike that of a cat; and a pair of them in a tree may be heard for a considerable distance.
In general the fur of this species is less valued than that of the pine-marten; but some skins from Afghanistan and Turkestan have beautiful fur, with long, glossy, nearly black piles, and very soft white or pale ashy under-fur. These Turkestan martens were at one time regarded as belonging to a distinct species.
The inferiority of the fur of the ordinary beech-marten, as compared with that of the sable, is due not only to its color and actual length, but likewise to the relative length of the long piles as compared with that of the under-fur, which is scarcely concealed by them. The more northern skins are always superior to those from Southern Europe; and a large number are imported into this country and sold as an inferior kind of sable.
The sable is so nearly related to the pine-marten that some writers have considered that it should be regarded merely as a variety distinguished by the greater length and fineness of the fur. In the most highly-esteemed specimens the fur should be thick, soft, and nearly uniformly colored. Such skins are blackish above, having a mixture of black and gray on the snout, gray on the cheeks, chestnut-brown on the neck and flanks, and orange-yellow, or sometimes reddish orange, on the throat. The margins of the ears are either greyish white or light brown in color. In a number of cases there is a larger or smaller admixture of white hairs among the dark fur of the back, while the muzzle, cheeks, breast, and under-parts are white. In other specimens the fur on the back is yellowish brown, while that of the under-parts is nearly white, and only the legs black. Good skins should exhibit a kind of "watering," owing to the reddish tint of the woolly under-fur showing through the long outer hairs. An average sable will measure about 20 inches from the snout to the root of the tail; the length of the tail being 7 inches. The skins are valued only when they have their winter fur, the summer coat being much shorter. In spring, although the winter fur may still be retained, the skins are quite useless, as the hair will drop off even after the skins have been dressed.
The range of the sable originally extended from the Ural Mountains to Behring Sea, and from the mountains on the southern borders of Siberia to the 68th parallel of north latitude. It is, however, now much cur-tailed, owing to the incessant persecution to which the animal has been so long subject; and the chief haunts are now the mountain forests of North Asia, more especially Eastern Siberia and Kamschatka.
Sables are for the most part of nocturnal habits, and, though they occasionally feed by day, generally spend that period of the twenty-four hours in holes at the roots or in the trunks of trees. They dislike the presence of man, and are rarely to be found in the neighborhood of the villages; their favorite resort being the depths of the forest least frequented by the natives. It is considered that the most inaccessible and least known parts of the country are the best hunting grounds. They live on hares, birds of all kinds, and, in short, almost every living thing they can kill, but they are also said to eat berries, and even fish. There are, indeed, but few animals, apparently, which do not live on fish in Kamschatka. They have only one litter during the year, generally in the month of April, and bring forth four or five young at a birth in a nest in the holes of trees. Formerly a large number of sables were caught in traps in Kamschatka, but they are now more generally hunted there with dogs; these dogs being specially trained for the purpose, and either running down their quarry on the deep snow, driving them into trees, or smelling them out when lying asleep in holes. The great object in such hunts is to "tree" the sable, when the tree is surrounded with nets, and the animal either shaken from the boughs or knocked off them by means of poles. If the sable does not fall into the nets, it is again pursued by the expectant dogs, by whom it is either run down, or once more "treed." When the tree is too high to allow of the sable being dislodged by the usual methods, it is either felled, or the animal is shot; but recourse to guns is if possible avoided, as the shot does damage to the skins. If the distance they have to travel be a long one, the Kamschatkan hunters start on their winter expeditions after the sable towards the end of September; but, if the district is nearer, they wait until the first fall of snow or about six weeks afterwards. If a single hunter takes twenty sable skins in a season, he considers himself fortunate. The total number annually taken in Kamschatka must be very large. The price of a single sable skin in St. Petersburg ranges from $10 to $I25, according to its quality and condition. .
The American marten is so nearly related to the pine-marten and the sable that there may be a question whether it should be regarded as any-thing more than a variety. The long hair is very like that of the pine-marten, to which it is most nearly allied; its general color being more or less uniformly brown, the breast-spot yellow, and the head and ears grey or whitish.
It is found in the Hudson's Bay district, Labrador, Alaska, and other parts of North America, descending on the eastern side as far south as the Adirondack Mountains, near New York.
Inhabits it appears to be similar to the pine-marten. In the Adirondacks it inhabits the evergreen forests, and is chiefly, although not exclusively, nocturnal. Its food consists of partridges, rabbits, and other smaller rodents, birds' eggs, young birds, frogs and toads, and large in-sects. It is said to display a distinct preference for forests of conifers, and is thoroughly arboreal, never venturing into the neighborhood of human dwellings. Although generally gentle-looking in appearance it is related that when attacking animals larger than itself, such as hares, it becomes as fierce in demeanor, in proportion to its size, as a tiger. When one is seen among the tree-tops, the hunter has but to whistle and thus attract its attention, when it will afford a ready shot.
The fur is of great commercial value; the best skins selling at about $15. Curiously enough, at certain periods this species becomes exceedingly scarce; the periods of scarcity recurring with great regularity at intervals of about ten years. How the animals disappear is, however, unknown, since there is no region into which they can migrate without the knowledge of the hunter, and none are found dead. The best season for obtaining the skins is in November; the animals being generally caught in wooden traps, which are set in lines for miles across the country. In spite of the incessant persecution to which it is subject, it does not appear that this species has appreciably diminished in number in the wilder regions of its habitat.
The largest of all the martens is the so-called fisher marten, an animal rejoicing in a number of names both popular and scientific being variously designated as the "pekan," "Pennant's marten," "black fox," and "black cat." The two latter titles are due to the large size, stout build, and dark color of the animal, which in point of form may be more aptly compared to a fox than to a weasel. It measures from 24 to 30 inches from the tip of the snout to the root of the tail. Its general color is blackish brown, becoming grey on the head and neck; while the throat is distinguished by the absence of the light-colored patch distinctive of all the other species. It ranges over the greater part of North America, as far northwards as Alaska and the Great Slave Lake, while to the southwards it is found in the upper part of Texas and about latitude 35 degrees. Continual hunting has, however, exterminated the animal from the more settled districts of the United States east of the Mississippi.
The name of fisher is somewhat of a misnomer, for these animals commonly frequent deep swamps and wooded mountain sides, away from the immediate vicinage of water, and are not known to catch fish for them-selves as do the mink and otter. However, they are fond of fish, and never neglect to devour those that chance to fall in their way. They prey chiefly upon hares, squirrels, mice, grouse, small birds, and frogs, and are said to eat snakes. They also catch and feed upon their own congener, the marten, and make a practice of devouring all that they discover in dead-falls and steel-traps. It also appears that porcupines compose a considerable proportion of their food in some districts; specimens being sometimes killed with numbers of porcupine-quils in their skin and flesh. Curiously enough, these needle-like quils which often exceed 2 inches in length, seem to cause it but little or no inconvenience. Instances are re-corded where the fisher marten has attacked and routed such a comparatively large animal as the raccoon.
In its chiefly nocturnal and largely arboreal habits the fisher marten resembles most of the other members of the group; its agility in the forests is, however, very remarkable, and when much frightened, or in pursuit of prey, it has been known to leap from tree to tree. The nest is usually built in the hole of a tree at a great height above the ground; the young being generally from two to four in number and produced at the end of April or beginning of May.
The fisher marten is trapped for its skins in the northern parts of America from October till May, those captured in the early part of the season being in the best condition. The fur is not nearly so valuable as that of the American marten; the usual price being about a dollar and a half per skin. In the European markets the fur is generally known as Virginian polecat.
Readily distinguished from all the other species. by its more brilliant color and the greater relative length of the tail, which is fully equal to two-thirds that of the head and body, the Indian marten is the handsomest member of the group. The soles of the feet are partially naked, although this character is less marked in Himalayan specimens than in those from more easterly regions.
The fur is generally short, although longer in the Himalayan than in other examples, and has a thick, woolly under-fur during the winter. There are two varieties of this animal, one of which is more brightly colored than the other. In the former, or common Indian type, the upper part of the head and neck, the rump, the tail, and the limbs, are either glossy blackish brown or black; while the middle of the back is of a paler brown, sometimes with a whitish tinge. The chin and upper part of the throat are white, while the lower throat and chest are either of a brilliant orange, brownish yellow, or pure yellow tint. In the second variety, with the exception of the white chin and throat and the pale yellow chest, the whole of the fur is dark brown. The length of the head and body varies from 20 to 22 inches, and that of the tail, inclusive of the hair at the tip, from 17 to 20 inches. The Indian marten is found throughout the Himalaya, from the regions to the westward of Kashmir to Eastern Assam, and thence through the hilly districts of Burma to the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra. In Peninsular India it occurs on the Nilgiri and Travancore Hills; whilst to the eastward its range extends as far as South China and Amurland.
This marten is only found where the hills are thickly clothed with forest, and is by no means exclusively nocturnal. Although apparently far from uncommon in the Himalaya, it is, according to the writer's personal experience, but seldom seen. He had, however, once the good fortune to see a pair of these handsome animals descend from the trees, and gambol in a forest-glade at a short distance from his position. It may sometimes be seen in parties of five or six, hunting for prey either among brushwood or on the branches of trees. When on the move, it is continually uttering a kind of low chuckle, prolonged into a harsh cry when it becomes excited. Its food, which includes large insects, appears to be very similar to that of the other martens, but it is reported to kill young deer.