Marten

Playful yet predatory by nature, pine martens are confined to areas of coniferous forests. They thrive in this environment, where they can conceal their presence easily.

This species of mustelid is found across Europe and Asia. It is found as far south as the Mediterranean islands and as far east as the Pacific coast of Siberia. The pine marten was once common in the British Isles, but it is now found only in Ireland and the far north of Great Britain. Despite their name, pine martens live in all types of forest - pine, broad-leaved, or a mixture of both trees. The martens are most at home in ancient forests where the tops of the trees join together. That forms a protective canopy under which the pine martens can hide from their chief prey - eagles. Recently planted forests - or those that are regularly disrupted by people -do not have such a canopy, and martens do not thrive there. In Scotland pine martens often leave forests and hunt on moorlands. Pine martens are nocturnal. They rest in tree hollows, discarded squirrel and bird nests and rocky crevices during the day. The martens eat mainly small rodents, such as voles.

The pine marten has undergone a dramatic decline in parts of its range, originally because of persecution by gamekeepers but more recently because of clearance of its forest habitat. These mustelids sleep off the ground, in a tree hollow or old bird’s nest. Their agility is such that, just like a cat, they can swivel their bodies if they fall, landing on their feet to reduce the risk of any injury, from heights of up to 20 m (66 ft).

Distribution: Ranges from Ireland and Scotland eastwards across northern parts of Europe and southwards to various Mediterranean islands; also extends to Russia and the Caucasus.

Weight: 0.5 - 2.2 kg (1 - 4.5 lb); males are heavier.

Length: 62 - 78 cm (24 -31 in); up to 15 cm (6 in) tall.

Maturity: 2 - 3 years.

Gestation Period: 31 days; embryonic development starts about 7 months after fertilization.

Breeding: 2 - 3; weaning occurs at around 49 days.

Food: Omnivorous, hunting birds and eggs.

Lifespan: 6 - 8 years; up to 18 in captivity.

Head

Triangular ears, prominent whiskers and a narrow pointed muzzle.

Bib

The creamy-yellow colour of the bib characterizes this species.

Paws

The fur on the paws is a darker shade of brown than on the body.

Fur

The fur becomes darker and silkier in the winter, and was highly prized, being used to make royal garments.

Winter walking

The undersides of the pine marten's toes are masked by fur in the winter, allowing it to walk easily over snow.

HEADING DOWN

The pine marten's sharp claws help these mustelids maintain their grip when they are climbing trees in the forest.

Beech Marten

These particular martens will inhabit areas of open beech woodland, but they are not dependent on forest and are sometimes found near human habitation.

Not found in Britain but common in continental Europe, the beech marten was originally an animal of woodland and hilly habitats. However, it has greatly increased its range by exploiting the habitats humans have created. In some regions of France, Germany and Switzerland, beech martens have become very common in towns, frequently occupying the loft spaces of people's homes.

Highly adaptable, these mustelids can rob birds' nests in the trees, sucking out the contents of eggs, whereas around buildings they are able to hunt rodents or simply scavenge. Beech martens are solitary by nature, with territories of males overlapping those of several females. Mating is a protracted affair, lasting perhaps an hour, with the male marten anchoring himself on top of the female's body by grasping a pad of fat at the base of her neck with his teeth.

Beech martens have a silky dark brown coat with a white throat patch. People tolerate them in towns partly because they help to control rodents. Their main enemies are birds of prey and foxes.

They can actually be quite a nuisance, chewing electrical wiring and making off with roof insulation to use as bedding. Beech martens have also been reported to have developed a liking for cars. The learned behaviour of sleeping under car bonnets, where it’s nice and warm, has spread across central Europe. Every day, up to 40 cars in Switzerland are damaged by beech martens chewing through the wires under their bonnets. This compulsive chewing behaviour is a consequence of the marten's dietary flexibility. Youngsters will test anything and everything to see if it is edible or not.

Distribution: Ranges through much of Europe, north to Denmark and south to Mediterranean islands such as Rhodes and Corfu. Extends into Asia as far as Mongolia.

Habitat: Deciduous woodland, open rocky hillsides and urban habitats.

Weight: 1.1 - 2.3 kg (2.4 - 5 lb).

Length: 62 - 80 cm (24 - 32 in).

Maturity: 15 - 27 months.

Gestation Period: Around 250 days.

Breeding: 1 - 4; the family splits up when the young are 1 year old.

Food: Opportunistic, hunting small mammals, also taking invertebrates and fruit.

Lifespan: Up to 10 years in the wild; up to 18 in captivity.

Status: Common.

Head

The ears are broad but set quite low, with the eyes pointing forwards. The jaws are narrow but powerful.

Colouration

The coat is a variable shade of brown, often with a white bib extending on to the chest.

Legs

Powerful hindquarters allow these martens to climb well and pounce on prey.

Tail

This is long and bushy in appearance.

Bib

When present, the bib on the front of the body can vary both in shape and colour.

FORAGING

Beech martens will feed on a wide variety of foods, even taking fallen fruit in gardens when available.

Gallery of Marten