Tuesday, June 29, 2021

American martens: ‘Ambassador to all things wild’

martenThe American Marten is a truly enigmatic ambassador to all things wild. Sightings of these large members of the weasel family will brighten any family camping trip or bring a flash of raw wilderness while exploring the backcountry.  

Amazingly there are actually two types of Marten in North America. “Martes Americana” – which is what we see on the Adirondacks and most of the mountainous parts of the northeastern United States and across Canada and also “Martes Caurina” who lives in the far Western parts of Canada and in the US Rockies as well as parts of California and Oregon.  

While exploring Mother Nature over the many years we have been lucky enough to have seen both varieties in the wild although, Martes Caurina was a single and very brief but very close encounter. My wife Anne (who’s Marten Americana images are included with this article) and I were exploring the Rockies, actually looking for Grizzlies to film.

martenWhile in Wyoming we pulled into a random mountainside campsite to look around and suddenly in a tree no more than a few feet away was a Marten! 

He dashed around the tree in an upward spiral flushing squirrels with a speed and agility that was jaw dropping. Just like Martes Americana that we seen in the Adirondacks and Algonquin Park Ontario this is a true arboreal mammalian predator with curled claws designed specifically to climb up and even straight down a tree at high speed!

They also have the weasel body shape best able to find prey in a den hole or hiding in brush and any attempt to outrun a Marten by climbing a tree actually gives the marten a strategic advantage. They are intelligent and curious with a personality that is unique to every individual but always filled with old fashioned moxie (a trait that most members of the Mustelidae family can relate with). Hyper situationally aware and keenly focused on whatever task is at hand, and that is including play.  

Like their larger cousin the Fisher, Marten have 5 toes however unlike the fisher only 4 toes usually show up on their prints in mud and snow. That’s the price of having small thumbs (hitchhiking is completely out of the question). In the Adirondacks a Marten once walked along the edge of a remote dirt road and was preoccupied long enough for me to ID. I have seen Marten a few times over the years in the Adirondacks and in the middle of Winter in Algonquin Park. Video of those amazing Martens in winter can be seen here:

YouTube video


martenMarten are fairly long lived, in fact they can live up to about 15 years however as you might expect lifespan in the wilderness varies greatly depending on your ability to outsmart your prey and any would-be predators.

I have heard many exaggerated reports of huge Martens (more likely misidentified Fishers) in reality the biggest Marten weight about 3 pounds.  They are an absolutely beautiful species and if being cute actually gave a predator the ability to shock prey into submission then Marten will clearly outlive us all.  

Remember with wildlife – “The more you look, the more you see…” 

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Mark Fraser is Executive Director of Nature Walks Conservation Society. He has spent a lifetime at his foremost passion, being a dedicated naturalist and conservationist. He is the Executive Producer and host of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser" (http://www.naturewalkswithmark.org) whose films have been seen on PBS. His You tube channel has over 4 million views (http://www.youtube.com/user/nwwmark).


11 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Great article! Especially liked the video.

  2. Alan West says:

    Great article. We need more like this.

  3. Ray Mainer says:

    I had one steal a loaf of bread and a hat while eating lunch at Lake Tear of the Clouds. I have seen several at Lake Colden too.

  4. Wally Elton says:

    Great video and article. I’ve only seen these in captivity when several were released in southern Vermont years ago in a restoration effort. Sadly, as far as I know, none survived or stayed put..

    • Tim-Brunswick says:


      You need to check with your Vermont furbearer biologists and they’ll tell you that ….surprise!….the restoration effort was not a failure after all and there are Marten in S. Vermont and in particular in and around the Woodford area….

  5. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Very nice article, but definitely a mistake labeling any Marten as a “Large” member of the weasel Family. Granted there are a few that can achieve a 3# weight, but few and far between. a 2.50# critter is deemed large n the Adks and Maine, as well. Fisher, Northern River Otter, and Wolverine(not found in the Adks.) are considered “large” with weights ranging from 15# for a hefty male Fisher to 45# for Alaska/Canada wolverines. Otters range up to abt. 24# in the Adirondacks and rarely higher weights are recorded.

    All members of the Weasel Family are fascinating to say the least.

  6. Donald Dixon says:

    In 2017, while hiking in the Grand Tetons, We came across two Martens chasing a squirrel round and round and up and down a tree. One ran away Finally, a noise one of us made chased the other Marten away. The squirrel stayed on the tree huffing and puffing and we were sure it was catching its breath. I got some great pictures- don’t know how to add them here!

  7. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “there are Marten in S. Vermont and in particular in and around the Woodford area….”

    >This area is very wild and boy do they get snow in these parts in the winter! There’s moose too. What an amazing area!

  8. Cynthia Aldrich says:

    I live in Verona n.y. I have never seen a marten before.I was thrilled I saw two chasing each other.I looked it up mating season for them.I also read they never come this far south in n.y. not sure if everything you read now days is correct Thank you for sharing the great video with all the wonderful information.I never knew there was a grey Jay I’m going to have to look for that one We now have an Osprey I’m pretty sure I have misspelled that one and several bluebirds which are beautiful to watch.-Cynthia

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