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Henry Williams
Henry Williams

Marten Cat

The following article appeared in many American newspapers in 1924. It reports that breeders were intentionally crossing martens with cats. The marten in question here, however, would no doubt be the American Marten (Martes americana) since the locale is Alaska. The transcript as it appears here was taken from page 2, column 2, of the February 19, 1924, issue of the Madera Mercury, a newspaper published in Madera, California (source):

marten cat

In attempting to explain the phenomenon of winged cats, Henry David Thoreau wrote that, according to naturalists, prolific hybrids were produced by the union of the marten and the domestic cat. Martens are mustelids (predatory carnivores related to stoats and weasels) and genetically incompatible with cats.

No-one was able to trace the Zoological gardens where the alleged hybrids occurred. Dr P Chalmers Mitchell, Secretary of the Zoological Society wrote, in 1927, that hybrids of cat and Civet, and of cat and Genet were unknown at the Zoological Gardens (London Zoo, Regents Park). He also disabused fanciers of the myth that the Siamese cat was a hybrid between domestic cat and the wild Bay Cat. Capt J G Dollman, Assistant Curator of the Natural History Museum, South Kensington (London) added that the Siamese cat and the Bay Cat were unlikely to interbreed and produce fertile offspring and that the Siamese was most unlikely to have been the product of a cross between a viverrine and a Bay Cat. He identified the supposed viverrine as the Indian (or Yellow-throated) Marten. Siamese cat fancier Lilian J Veley (1926), however, remained adamant that the Siamese was more than just a form of domestic cat, stating that its traits bore some resemblance to a type of viverrine that lived in the region and adding (possibly sensing she was on shaky ground) that the viverrine might be unknown to science. It must be added that this all came about during a spat over whether the Siamese or the Abyssinian was the Sacred Cat of Egypt and that Veley had a vested interest in making the Siamese unique among cats. The Siamese was described as having a "marten-like" face, adding to the belief in hybrid ancestry.

Martens differ from fishers in their smaller size, weighing in at 1.5 to 3 lbs (0.6 to 1.4 kg) and measuring approximately 1 to1.5 feet (30 to 45 cm) long without the tail. However, male martens and female fishers can be about the same size. Martens have a sleeker body form, lighter fur, and most importantly, a buffy orange throat patch that may extend down the chest. Marten home ranges are substantially smaller than fishers, with male marten home range maximums of about 6 square miles (15.7 square kilometers).

Martens, along with fishers, sea otters, ermines, and minks, were highly valued for their pelts and heavily trapped for the commercial fur market. Declining harvests led California to prohibit marten trapping in the northwest corner of the state in 1946. Despite the length of time since commercial harvest ceased, the marten population has not recovered. Research suggests that much of the best habitat for the Humboldt marten in the coastal redwood forests was eliminated by accelerated harvesting following World War II. In the last century, roughly 95 percent of the mature and old-growth redwood forests were converted to stands now 80 years old or less. The short harvest rotations of the past 50 years have inhibited development of large trees with a complex understory. Without their favored habitat, there has been limited opportunity for the Humboldt marten to rebound.

The historic range of the Humboldt marten was described as sea level to about 3,000 feet (914 m) along the narrow, humid, coastal strip, chiefly within the redwood belt, from the Oregon state line south to Sonoma County. By the 1950s, populations of Humboldt martens were highly reduced. Currently, a single population of the Humboldt marten (not including the detections within RNSP) occupies an area that is less than five percent of its former range and is estimated at less than 100 individuals.

There are few remaining blocks of coastal old-growth forest large enough to support additional marten populations in northwestern California. The establishment of a population in RNSP would greatly improve the conservation outlook for the Humboldt marten. The old growth in RNSP may represent some of the best habitat in which martens could make a comeback. The detections of one or more martens in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park are encouraging signs.

The common theme between fishers and martens is the concept of LARGE. Large contiguous blocks of forest, large amounts of canopy closure, large numbers of structures, and large structures (snags, logs, trees with cavities and rock piles). A recent study has shown that fishers often choose the largest of the largest structures available in a stand! Both fishers and martens are considered generalized predators; they will eat just about anything they can catch, including rabbits, small mammals, birds, lizards, and insects. They also will consume fungi, fruit, and carrion.

Changes to habitat caused by timber harvest may have resulted in increasing competition between martens and fishers. Historically, fishers were relatively rare in the coastal zone. Perhaps the combination of over-trapping and timber harvest practices that favor fishers by removing understory, has kept marten populations depressed. Fishers are known to prey on martens where the two coincide.

Martens belong to the Weasel family. People often mistake pine martens for fishers, a close relative that belongs to the mustelid family. Fishers reside in almost the same habitats as martens, and their tracks are almost identical. The difference between pine martens and fishers is that the latter is considerably larger, and their fur is darker than martens. Besides, martens also have two thick black vertical lines that run from the top of their eyes to the forehead. Furthermore, the ears of pine martens are larger than those of fishers. The purpose of this article is to illustrate the characteristics of fishers and pine martens.

The fisher is almost similar to the marten (Martes americana) but is slightly larger in size. They are long, thin-bodied animals covered in fur with low rounded ears, a tapered muzzle, and have a bushy tail. These creatures are sometimes confused with cats, but they are not closely related at all.

Two types of pine martens exist, the European and the American pine marten. The European pine marten is widespread and native to Northern Europe. The American pine marten is found in Alaska, Canada, the Rocky Mountains, Wisconsin, northern Minnesota, and Michigan. It also lives on the east coast in New York, Maine, and New Hampshire.

Pine martens usually do not excavate their own dens. Instead, they prefer using various woodland structures. They usually den in tree cavities, windthrow, squirrel dreys, rock faces, and up-turned root plates. In areas where foxes are found, pine martens are safer if they den in above-ground sites. If natural structures are unavailable, they love to occupy huge bird boxes, old buildings, and purpose-built den boxes.

Pine martens are slow breeders. Females usually attain sexual maturity when they are three years old. Breeding occurs once a year, and they give birth to 1 to 3 kits in the spring. The kits emerge from their breeding den about mid-June. They become independent of their parents when they are about six months of age.

Marten are primarily carnivorous with a diet that consists of voles, squirrels, birds, and insects, but they also take advantage of fruits, nuts, and berries. Beechnuts are especially favored by marten.

There are millions of possible examples of predator-prey coevolution that could be used as examples here, based on the continual drive for one species to get the upper hand over the other. But one that comes to mind is of a creature that I learnt about while on holiday in Scandinavia: the pine marten, and how it affects squirrels.

The pine marten is a species in the mustelid family, along with otters, weasels, stoats, and wolverines. Like many mustelids, they are carnivorous mammals which feed on a variety of different prey items like rodents, small birds and insects. One of the more abundant species that they prey upon are squirrels: both red squirrels and grey squirrels are potential food for the cute yet savage pine marten.

The Pacific marten (Martes caurina) is a carnivorous furbearing member of the weasel family. The marten's coat is characterized by soft, dense fur which varies in color from pale yellow to dark brown, often shading to black on the feet and legs. The Pacific marten on Admiralty Island tend to be yellowish orange in color. Lighter-colored martens tend to have grayish brown tails, while darker animals have dark brown tail fur. The fur around the muzzle varies from gray to light brown with a short dark line extending up the forehead from the corner of each eye. The marten's throat and upper chest are usually pale or buff or deep orange. The ears are erect and rounded giving martens and almost cat like appearance. Martens vary in body length from 19 to 25 inches (48-65 cm), not including the tail. They may weigh up to nearly 4 pounds (1.8 kg). Males are considerably larger than females. The tail accounts for nearly a third of the marten's total length. Martens have sharp, non-retractable claws which they use for climbing as well as for holding their prey. Large furry paws allow the marten to travel easily over deep snow.

Martens depend heavily on meadow voles and red-backed voles or mice, which are their primary food source over much of Alaska. Fluctuations in food availability often create corresponding variations in marten populations. This condition is more pronounced in the less optimum habitat of the marten. Probably the second most critical food source is berries, especially blueberries, followed by small birds, eggs, and vegetation. Marten will also eat squirrels and if food is scarce enough will occasionally exhibit cannibalism. The marten is a voracious and opportunistic feeder. Carrion such as the remains of wolf kills; salmon carcasses or winter killed ungulates are eaten in many areas. Wild martens are fond of sweets such as jam. They will sometimes take treats from humans. Although martens are suited for nocturnal foraging, they are also active during mornings and evenings, especially during the long days of summer. 041b061a72


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