conserve ireland

 

Pine marten

 

Common Name Scientific Name Irish Name
Pine Marten Martes martes Cat crainn
Order Family Group
Mustelidae Carnivora  Mammal
pine Marten pine Marten american mink
footprints    

                              
           

                              

Legal Status

Wildlife Act 1976 / 2000
EU Directive 92/43 Annex II, Annex IV
Bern Convention Appendix III

 

Key Identification Features

A member of the mustelidae family the pine marten resembles the otter, Irish stoat and American mink. They can be distinguished from other Irish mustelids by a number of features including their long flat pointed heads which taper off to a small black snout. Their ears are large and round with light coloured fur on the inside they also have long legs for their body size with a large bushy tail. Their large feet have unusually hairy soles with track marks of five digits each with long sharp claws showing in their prints, hind feet can measure up to 9.5cm in length. Body colouration is a rich chocolate brown to near black with a creamy yellow chest and throat. They molt this coat in late spring turning to a short dark summer coat by June. Males and females are similar in size and weight with male’s head and body length averaging up to 50cm with a total length of 68cm when the tail is included. Female’s head and body measure up to 45cm with a total length of 62cm. Adult males weigh up to 1.5kg with females weighing slightly less at up to 1.1kg when fully grown. Pine martens are very agile and can move swiftly through tree tops and can rapidly climb and descend trees in a squirrel like manner while embracing tree trunks. They can leap between branches using their tail for balance. On the ground they have an erect stance with a long loping stride. They are not very vocal but use a variety of cat like calls sounding like purrs, coughs and meows to communicate. They also have excellent hearing and eyesight with a strongly developed sense of smell which is used to locate their prey and to identify the territories of other pine martens.

 

Habitat

Pine martens are arboreal so they will generally inhabit forests of coniferous or mixed tree types but in the west of Ireland they can be found on open rocky areas which contain scrub with good ground cover. They generally avoid coastal areas or open un-covered habitat types. Pine martens are solitary territorial animals but individual’s ranges may overlap especially in a region of their preferred habitat type. Males will generally occupy larger ranges than females. Male’s territorial ranges can cover up to 80ha with females occupying areas up to 30ha. Several dens can be located in an individual’s territory some will be used infrequently throughout the year. Pine martens do not build their own nests but instead use vacated badger setts, tree hallows, old squirrel dreys, nest boxes, rock crevices, openings under large tree roots or in rural out buildings. Dens are lined with dry moss or fur for warmth.

 

Food and Feeding Habits

Pine martens are largely carnivorous eating a variety of smaller mammals, birds and insects whilst supplementing their diet with fruits and berries in the autumn period. Their preferred prey items are hunted at ground level and include wood mice, young rabbits and hares, rats, voles and squirrels, they will also eat birds, frogs, beetles and earthworms when available and prefer honey, berries and mushrooms in the winter months. Pine martens are largely nocturnal covering large areas of their territories at night or sometimes in the early daylight during the summer months. They are most active at dawn and dusk and may have to make several hunting trips per night during the winter months if food is scarce. They will eat carrion if they find any recently deceased animals within their ranges. Pine martens are not usually found close to human settlements but some may be attracted to suburban gardens by the presence of bird tables and squirrel feeders.

 

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Pine martens breed once a year with the mating season running from July to early September when their food sources are abundant. Mating can be frantic and noisy as they will emit shrill cat like yowls during copulation. Females may mate with several males while she is in heat if the area has a high population density. The gestation period does not begin immediately as female pine martens have the ability to delay the implantation of her fertilized eggs to the womb until environmental factors become favourable. Once gestation begins the foetus will fully develop within one month, which is fast for a mustelide family member. Females on average give birth to three young known as kits in early spring which are born blind, deaf and coloured with a soft grey fur coat which gradually turns reddish brown. Kits generally weigh less than 30 grams at birth. Parental care is given by the female only who will wean the kits for up to eight weeks. The young will emerge from the den by their tenth week where they will join their mother in foraging and hunting trips becoming fully independent after six months. Young female pine martens reach sexual maturity by the time they are seventeen months of age with the males taking up to twenty seven months to reach this stage. The maximum recorded age of a pine marten in captivity was 18 years old but it is believed that most will not survive for more than 6 years in the wild.

 

Current Distribution

Pine martens have been indigenous to Ireland since a period just after the last ice age, they are widespread throughout the forested areas of Europe and western Russia. They were in decline throughout the 19th century in Europe due to heavy deforestation of their habitats and due to the practice of trapping for their fur pelts. For a time pine martens were considered vermin and their numbers were further reduced by landowners and gamekeepers who saw them as a threat to game birds and their eggs. Pine martens liking for carrion caused their decline in upland sheep rearing areas when the practice of poisoning carcasses to reduce fox numbers was still used. Pine martens are expanding their ranges from their traditional strongholds of the west coast to the midlands and to the east. The highest population densities can be found on the west coast from Donegal south to counties Limerick and Kerry.

 

Conservation Issues

Pine martens are one of Irelands most elusive and important small
mammal species, they prey on a large number of smaller mammals and birds but due to their widely varied tastes they are not a threat to any other species and form an important link in Irelands food web. Man is still the main threat to the pine marten population due mainly to accidental poisoning. The practice of placing poisoned carcasses for the control of fox numbers still occurs in some sheep rearing areas which can have an effect on some populations of pine martens. The re-forestation of land areas in Ireland has and will continue to help increase pine marten numbers, however this may take time as they require more mature wooded areas with a mixture of tree types which a lot of the newly planted coniferous forests do not provide for several years. Mature mixed woodlands are needed to establish the types and numbers of prey species which the pine marten needs to survive. The recently re-introduced golden eagle species to Ireland may have an effect on the pine marten population as the eagle preys on this species. Reflecting on the importance of this indigenous mammal to the Irish environment the pine marten has been listed as a protected species under Irish, European and international legislation.