Wildlife Portfolio of the Western National Parks
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THE PINE MARTEN also known as American sable, is a member of the weasel family. Compared with the mink, the marten has longer ears, legs, and fur, and a decidedly bushy tail. As in other members of this family, the adult male is distinctly larger than the female. The pine marten is about the size of a small female domestic house cat. The usual color of the marten's body is brown; the tail and feet are a darker brown, appearing almost black. The real "trade-mark" of this species is the vivid orange patch on the throat. The head of the female is often tinged with gray hairs.

In summer the marten's coat is thin and coarse, while in winter the fur is long and silky. The claws of the pine marten are strongly curved and sharp, enabling the animal to climb trees with ease and rapidity. Its toes are webbed at the base and, being flexible and furry, they spread. This gives the animal the ability to travel about in winter, whereas many other mammals would sink into and flounder about in the deep, soft snow. Martens do not hibernate in winter. Although they may den up for several days during heavy storms, they become active again as soon as the weather moderates.

The food of the marten consists largely of small rodents, such as mice, chipmunks, pikas, chickarees, and pack rats. Some birds, insects, and berries are also eaten when available. In winter, when the snow is deep and food becomes scarce, martens frequently appear at the rangers' quarters in our national parks. There, they are quick to take advantage of the protection given them, and also render valuable assistance in keeping down destructive rats and mice that congregate in the Government buildings during the winter. On May 2, 1936, at Crater Lake National Park, I watched from a distance of 6 feet a pair of martens which frequented a pile of stove wood in a winter storeroom. The head of this female was grayish, while the male was larger and dark brown without any gray on his head.

I once weighed certain tanned and dressed prime marten skins and found them to be worth their weight in gold. Because of the high value of their pelts, constant vigilance is required during the winter to prevent trappers from poaching martens inside our national parks, where they become unsuspicious and easily caught.


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Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010