Posts Tagged ‘marten’

Photo by Sexecutioner. 

The yellow-throated marten (Martes flavigula) is a relatively widely distributed species of marten that is found over a broad swathe of East and South Asia, as well as much of Indonesia.

It is the largest marten species in the Old World, weighing as much as 12 pounds, and it was once thought to be dangerous to people.

It was once claimed that these martens would pack up and hunt people.

These martens do hunt in little packs of three or four individuals, but they don’t hunt people.

Instead, they use their pack-hunting behavior to target muntjac and musk deer.

This particular one is in a zoo, which is why it is eating a white domestic mouse.

With the exception of certain species of otter, I don’t know of any other mustelids that hunt in packs.

No other martens do.  Tayras sometimes travel in groups, but I don’t think anyone has observed them cooperatively hunting.

This animal is about the size of a fisher (M. pennanti).  I’ve never heard of fishers killing deer, but for some reason, they do kill both bobcats and Canada lynx, which is a little bizarre. The biologist Roland Kays doesn’t think fishers hunt domestic cats, but the discovery that fishers sometimes prey upon the two North American lynx species should be a little disconcerting for cat owners who let their pets roam in fisher territory. If a fisher can kill one of those animals, it would very easily take a domestic cat.

Fishers are very robust martens, and they don’t have to pack up to be quite successful predators.


I should note that the Martes is currently a contested genus.  Molecular evidence suggests that the two species of marten in North America, the fisher and the American marten (M. americana) are more closely related to the wolverine or glutton (Gulo gulo) and the tayra (Eira barbara) of Central and South America than they are to the Old World martens.

More work has to be done to sort out the phylogeny and taxonomy, but it is likely that our two martens will be given their own genus or genera at some point in the future.



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The fisher is the largest species of marten. Some males can weigh as much as 20 pounds. However, it has the most confusing name. It is a large arboreal weasel that almost never eats fish. Its main prey items include squirrels and, most famously, porcupines.

But how did an animal of the forest get such a strange name?

Two theories have been posited about the origins of this name.

One is that the animal gets its name for the trade name for its fur. The French fur-trappers sold the fur of this animal as European polecat fur. (A European polecat is a wild ferret, not a skunk. How skunks became known as polecats in this country is something for which I have no answer.) The French word for a polecat pelt is fichet or ficheux.

The other theory is posited in Farley Mowat’s Sea of Slaughter. He argues that the fisher got its name because it was confused with another mustelid that really did live on fish.

As you may be aware, there were once two species of mink in North America. These were the only “true mink” species in the world. The so-called European mink is actually a semi-aquatic polecat, which can hybridize with both European polecats and domestic ferrets.  Today, we have only a single species of true mink. This species is best referred to as the American mink.

It is a commonly fur-farmed species, which comes in many different colors in captivity. In the wild, it always chocolate-brown or black in color. This mink species has been introduced to Europe, both intentionally and unintentionally, and it has largely taken over much of the European mink’s habitat.

The other species of true mink was the sea mink. We call it the sea mink today, because we recognize that it is relative of the American mink. However, during the early days of settlement on the New England coast and the Maritimes, the species was called lots of things. Sir Humphrey Gilbert called it a “fyshe like a greyhound.”  In those days, all creatures of the sea were called fish. Several descriptions of this animal suggest that it was gracile in build, even referring to them as being like Italian greyhounds. It was also reddish in color when compared to the other mink.

The animal had several names. In New England, it was called the fisher cat. In the Maritimes, it was called the water marten. No one, it seemed, connected it to the other mink species.

When settlement moved from the coast into the interior, Mowat argues, they came across another similarly built animal in the forest, and not being the best zoologists or taxonomists, assumed that the large tree marten was the same species as the coastal animal.

So the fisher is a horribly misnamed animal, and if Mowat is correct, our ignorance of zoology is to blame for the misnomer. The reason why I think Mowat might be a little more accurate is the reference in the old literature of a “water marten” for the sea mink. The fisher is obviously a marten, and very gracile mink could be thought of as a marten.

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