The European pine marten is distributed through most portions of continental Eurasia from western Europe in the west to western Siberia in the east, from the northern edge of coniferous forest in the north to Asia Minor in the south. The species also inhabits the Caucasus and many Mediterranean islands including the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, Elba and Sicily. The degree to which island populations are due to human introduction is not entirely known. Formerly widespread in Great Britain, it is now restricted to Ireland and northern portions of mainland Britain (Corbet and Southern 1977, Nowak 1999).
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )
Martes martes is a medium-sized carnivore, about the size and proportions of a large domestic cat. Head and body length is 450-580 mm, tail length is 160-280 mm. Substantial size variation is found geographically. Sexual dimorphism is also seen in size, with males outweighing females by 12-30%. The fur is a rich brown coat that is thick and silky in the winter and short and coarse in the summer. Pads on the soles are completely covered with fur in the winter. Juveniles acquire their adult pelage in their first winter, and a complete molt occurs only once a year, in the spring. The winter fur grows in September. The coloration includes an irregular, creamy-orange throat patch, a grayish tint on the belly, and darkening on the paws. The tail is long and bushy and the ears are relatively large and triangular. An abdominal scent gland is present, as well as anal scent glands.
The pine marten is an adept tree climber, with many adaptations including bone and muscle structure for powerful forelimbs, long tail to aid in balancing, and well-developed claws (Grzimek 1990, Corbet and Southern 1977, Nowak 1999).
Range mass: 480 to 1800 g.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Average basal metabolic rate: 4 W.
Martes martes prefer forest habitats, including deciduous, mixed, and coniferous forest. Old-growth forest is often preferred over young forest (Overskaug et al 1994). The species is considered to be a habitat specialist. Having a closed treetop as cover from predation is thought to be an important habitat criterion for pine martens. They are found outside of forest, however. On the island of Minorca, Martes martes showed no habitat preference, living in shrubland and seemingly indifferent to tree cover (Clevenger 1994). It is thought that the absence of predators on the island has allowed the martens to become habitat generalists. In Scotland, pine martens frequent many habitat types. They are seen in young forest plantations, coarse grassland, heather and grass moorland, and borders. Stone dykes are used as runways to get from area to another (Gurnell et al 1994).
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest
Habitat and Ecology
The pine marten is omnivorous. It favors animal food, relying on small mammals for most of the year. The diet composition and proportion often change according to season and local conditions. Populations respond to the unpredictable cycles of rodents, such as voles, by drastically increasing their consumption of these prey items (Zalewski et al 1995). The reproductive characteristics of Martes martes prevent it from closely tracking the rodent cycles: a population increase is seen a full year after a rodent boom. When fruits and berries become abundant in the autumn, martens may fill 30% of their diet with these resources (in Scotland and on the island of Minorca). In other regions, such as Poland, fruits may never be eaten (Zalewski et al 1995, Clevenger 1993, Gurnell et al 1994). Aside from the effects of seasonally available fruits and unpredictable rodent booms, diet is otherwise reasonably constant. Favored foods include voles, squirrels, other small mammals, birds, insects, carrion, and frogs, reptiles, and snails. Diets of pine martens that forage along a loch in Scotland have been recorded to include crabs, echinoderms, and barnacles (Gurnell et al 1994).
Food is stored in the summer and autumn to compensate for low winter resources (Helldin and Lindstrom 1995). Martens are skillful treetop hunters, racing on thin, swinging branches and leaping from one treetop to another in pursuit of a squirrel. Their arboreal adaptations discussed earlier allow this acrobatic ability. Foraging also occurs extensively on the forest floor. In habitats other than forest, all foraging is completed on the ground. Several skull attributes allow martens to be remarkable predatators: elongated braincase allows for insertion of an elarged temporalis muscle; a large flange on the mandibular fossae prevent dislocation of the lower jaw; and, well-developed shearing and crushing cheekteeth. These characteristics aid martens in capture, restraint and processing of prey (Zalewski et al 1995, Clevenger 1993, Gurnell et al 1994, Grzimek 1990, Helldin and Lindstrom 1995).
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Status: captivity: 17.0 years.
Status: wild: 10.0 years.
Status: captivity: 15.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Reproduction in European pine martens is tied closely to the seasonality of their temperate habitats, as it is in many members of the family Mustelidae. Mating and fertilization in July and August is followed by a period of delayed implantation that lasts about seven months. Implantation occurs in late February and March. The timing of implantation responds to photoperiod, specifically to the spring increase in duration of daylight. Postimplantation development lasts 30-35 days, and parturition occurs in late March through April. Each litter produces an average of three young (range, 2-5). Adult females only have four functional mammae.
Adult male pine martens exhibit a distinct seasonal testicular cycle. Males complete testicular development a full month before estrous, and begin regression about the time females enter estrous. The first visible sign of estrous in females is an enlarged vulva. Most matings occur within a 30- to 45-day period, during which females may exhibit one to four periods of sexual receptivity. These periods last for 1-4 days and have an interval of 6-17 days. Copulation is prolonged, lasting 30-50 minutes, and may occur on the ground or in trees. In captivity, multiple copulations with one or more males can occur during each period of receptivity. A "false heat" occurs in February and March, corresponding to implantation and the beginnings of pregnancy. The increased social activity and intrasexual aggression may facilitate late dispersal of yearlings (Helldin and Lindstrom 1995).
At birth, young of Martes martes weigh about 30 g. They are blind, deaf and toothless, and have thick, short fur. The eyes open at 34-38 days. Young martens begin consuming solid food at 36-45 days, and weaning occurs about six weeks after parturition. At 7-8 weeks, young emerge from the den and may begin dispersing at 12-16 weeks, during the breeding season. Some young may overwinter in the natal territory and disperse in the following spring.
In the wild, male and female Martes martes may mate in their first summer, at 14 months of age. The first mating season, however, may typically be deferred until the second or third year. In captivity, most males do not breed until 27 months old. This could be due to stress incurred under captive conditions or inaccuracy in aging wild animals. In captivity, Martes martes lives about 15 years, and males can be sexually vigorous throughout their lives. (Mead 1994, Helldin and Lindstrom 1995).
Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual
Average birth mass: 30 g.
Average gestation period: 28 days.
Average number of offspring: 4.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 426 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 456 days.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Martes martes
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
No negative effects. Martes martes avoids human settlements, and has never been known as a pest. (pp. 410-411 in Grzimek 1990)
The winter coat of the European pine marten has always been much in demand. The species has been successfully kept on fur farms. Life history characteristics, however, prevent trade of pine marten fur from being feasible on a large commercial scale (Grzimek 1990).
European pine marten
The European pine marten (Martes martes), known most commonly as the pine marten in Anglophone Europe, and less commonly also known as pineten, baum marten, or sweet marten, is an animal native to Northern Europe belonging to the mustelid family, which also includes mink, otter, badger, wolverine and weasel. It is about the size of a domestic cat.
The body is up to 53 cm (21 in) in length, and its bushy tail can be 25 cm (10 in). Males are slightly larger than females; on average a marten weighs around 1.5 kg (3.3 lb). Their fur is usually light to dark brown and grows longer and silkier during the winter months. They have a cream to yellow coloured "bib" marking on their throats.
Their habitats are usually well-wooded areas. European pine martens usually make their own dens in hollow trees or scrub-covered fields. Martens are the only mustelids with semi-retractable claws. This enables them to lead more arboreal lifestyles, such as climbing or running on tree branches, although they are also relatively quick runners on the ground. They are mainly active at night and dusk. They have small rounded, highly sensitive ears and sharp teeth adapted for eating small mammals, birds, insects, frogs, and carrion. They have also been known to eat berries, bird's eggs, meat, nuts and honey. European pine martens are territorial animals that mark their range by depositing faeces (called 'scats') in prominent locations. These scats are black and twisted and can be confused with those of the fox, except that they reputedly have a floral odor.
Threats to this species
Although they are preyed upon occasionally by golden eagles and by red foxes, humans are the largest threat to pine martens. They are vulnerable from conflict with humans, arising from predator control for other species, or following predation of livestock and the use of inhabited buildings for denning. Martens may also be affected by woodland loss. Persecution (illegal poisoning and shooting) by gamekeepers, and loss of habitat leading to fragmentation, and human disturbance, have caused a considerable decline in the pine marten population. They are also prized for their very fine fur in some areas. In the United Kingdom, European pine martens and their dens are offered full protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
Great Britain and Ireland
In Great Britain, the species was until recently only at all common in north-western Scotland. Some individuals have lost their fear of man and come to take food provided for them, particularly enjoying jam and peanut butter. A study in 2012 found that martens have spread from their Highland stronghold, north into Sutherland and Caithness and south-eastwards from the Great Glen into Moray, Aberdeenshire, Perthshire, Tayside and Stirlingshire, with some in the Central Belt, on the Kintyre and Cowal peninsulas and on Skye and Mull. The expansion in the Galloway Forest has been limited compared with that in the core marten range. Martens were reintroduced to the Glen Trool Forest in the early 1980s. Only restricted spread has occurred from there.
In England, pine martens are extremely rare, and long considered probably extinct. A scat found at Kidland Forest in Northumberland in June 2010 may represent either a recolonisation from Scotland, or a relict population that has escaped notice previously. There have been numerous reported sightings of pine martens in Cumbria, however, it was not until 2011 that concrete proof – some scat that was DNA tested – was found. There is also a small Welsh population. Scat found in Cwm Rheidol forest in 2007 was confirmed to be from a pine marten using DNA testing. A male was found in 2012 as road-kill near Newtown, Powys. This was the first confirmed sighting in Wales of the species, living or dead, since 1971.
It is still quite rare in Ireland, but the population is recovering and spreading; its traditional strongholds are in the west and south, especially The Burren, but the population in the Midlands has significantly increased in recent years.
The recovery of the European pine marten is credited with reducing the population of invasive grey squirrels in the UK and Ireland. Where the range of the expanding European pine marten population meets that of the grey squirrel, the population of the squirrels quickly retreats. It is theorised that because the grey squirrel spends more time on the ground than the red squirrel, they are far more likely to come in contact with this predator. Generally, the diet of the pine marten includes small mammals, carrion, birds, insects and fruits.
The European pine marten has lived to 18 years in captivity, but in the wild a lifespan of eight to ten years is more typical. They reach sexual maturity at two or three years of age. The young are usually born in March or April after a 7 month-long gestation period in litters of one to five. Young European pine martens weigh around 30 grams at birth. The young begin to emerge from their dens by the middle of June and are fully independent around six months after their birth.
- "Vincent Wildlife Trust Website". Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- Scottish Natural Heritage; The Vincent Wildlife Trust (2013), Expansion zone survey of pine marten (Martes martes) distribution in Scotland (Project no: 13645) (PDF) (Commissioned Report) 520, retrieved 18 August 2013
- "Pine marten (Martes martes)". ARKive. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
- "Pine Marten". The Vincent Wildlife Trust. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
- Found at last! pine marten rediscovered in Northumberland. Northumberland Wildlife Trust (1 July 2010).
- Pine Marten rediscovered in Cumbria after 10 years!. Wild Travel Magazine (May 2011).
- Independent article on Welsh population ‘Extinct’ animal turns up in Wales as roadside carcass proves elusive pine martins still exist in UK 8 November 2012.
- Kelleher, Lynn (4 March 2013) "Red Squirrels make comeback as Pine Martens feed on Greys" Irish Independent
- George Monbiot, How to eradicate grey squirrels without firing a shot, Guardian, January 30, 2015.
- Emma Sheehy & Colin Lawton, Population crash in an invasive species following the recovery of a native predator: the case of the American grey squirrel and the European pine marten in Ireland, Biodiversity and Conservation, March 2014, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp. 753-774.
- Watson, Jeremy (30 December 2007) "Tufty's saviour to the rescue". Scotland on Sunday. Edinburgh.
- Kranz, A., Tikhonov, A., Conroy, J., Cavallini, P., Herrero, J., Stubbe, M., Maran, T. & Abramov, A. (2008). Martes martes. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 21 March 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of least concern
- Wilderness Classroom- Pine Marten
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