European pine martens (Martes martes) are iconic UK animals. But not a lot of people know about them. One reason for this is that, unlike the very common red deer which can be seen in various places in the country, pine martens are very elusive given their habits and small population.
Want to learn more about these adorable creatures? Listed below are some interesting facts about pine martens.
One feature pine martens have is the distinct pale or creamy yellow bib-like patch on their throat area and up to their chest. Their coats are generally coloured dark or chestnut brown. They have slender bodies with an average length of 45 centimetres, much like domestic cats. They also have long bushy tails which enable them to balance on trees. Pine martens have pointy faces and yellow-tipped ears.
As mentioned, these adorable creatures are omnivores. They have a diverse diet which includes eggs, squirrels, rabbits and insects. They also have no problems devouring fresh carrions of animals left by other predators. They feast on fruits and berries like blackberries. During summer, 30% of their diet is made up of bilberries, thereby resulting in bluish droppings. Basically, pine martens have a very adaptable diet that enabled them to survive for millions of years.
Their sharp teeth and claws help them effectively hunt for food. Moreover, unlike other mustelids, these tree cats, other name for pine martens, have semi-retractable claws which allow them to climb trees and run on branches. In fact, they can easily jump from tree to tree when pursuing preys.
Pine Marten eating
Pine martens reach sexual maturity by the age of two or three. Their breeding season happens once a year, with males and females coming together to mate during summer. However, fertilised eggs only get implanted in the uterus by January. Referred to as delayed implantation, this process is believed to be a mechanism that ensures that pine martens are born at an optimal season – spring.
It is not unusual for pine martens to make shrill sounds, similar to those cats make, during the mating season. The breeding takes place at den sites such as burrows, tree holes, rock crevices and squirrel dreys, among others.
Female pine martens give birth to litters composed of two to five kits around March and April. Born blind and hairless, the newborns are dependent on their mothers for six weeks. Then, they start to emerge out of their den, exploring it on their own. However, juvenile pine martens remain with their mothers for six to twelve months before establishing their own territories. In the wild, they have an average life span of eight to ten years. Meanwhile, they tend to live longer in captivity.
Also called cat crainn, these solitary animals are very territorial. Only one adult can occupy a patch of land, except for females who are caring for their young. In fact, males and females only come together the during mating season. To mark their territories, they use scats which are usually dark and coiled. Often confused with scats of other animals like foxes, pine martens’ scats are smaller with a tolerable smell – floral or sweet scent. They have big territories with one pine marten requiring around 60 to 160 hectares. Males tend to have larger territories than females.
A pine marten inside a tree hollow.
Pine martens prefer thick woodlands and shrubland. They can make their dens in hollow trees, rocky crevices and even building rooftops. They may also use old squirrel dreys or bird nests. These dens are primarily used for breeding. When it’s not the breeding season, they spend their time in so-called refuge sites.
One reason why spotting pine martens can be difficult is because they are nocturnal creatures. They spend most of their day resting or sleeping in their dens or refuge sites. They mainly forage or hunt for food at dusk or night. However, in summer, they can be active during the day.
Experts suggest that pine martens are helping the population of red squirrels The native reds are declining in number because of their grey cousins. Grey squirrels carry a pox disease which is fatal to the reds. Moreover, the greys, which are bigger, tend to outcompete the reds for food and habitat. As a result, grey squirrel population is on the rise while that of the red squirrel is plummeting. According to reports, in places where pine martens are present, the number of greys is decreasing. One reason cited for this is that, as compared to the reds, greys are less agile because they are heavier. Hence, they spend much of their time on the ground and become easy preys for pine martens.
Having spent her childhood in the countryside, Fran has been fascinated about nature since she was young. She loves animals and currently cares for three adorable chihuahuas. When she's not writing, she's busy trekking or exploring beaches.