Very discreet and therefore not well known, the marten nevertheless lives all around us, in our gardens, our attics and even sometimes in our cities. Often confused with its cousin, the marten (Martes martes), the stone marten is however a very special species that deserves our attention.
What is a weasel?
The marten (Martes foina), is a small nocturnal mammal (which lives at night) of the mustelidae family, just like the weasel, badger or polecat.
The marten is therefore carnivorous, it therefore feeds on small animals (mice, field mice or shrews), insects, but also certain birds such as pigeons. The marten’s diet can however be varied, since in case of food shortage it can be brought to eat eggs or fruit.
It was also used in Roman times to hunt small unwanted animals from the granaries in which the grain was stored, before the arrival of cats from Egypt.
Physically, this small mammal measures between 40 and 50cm, with a tail of about twenty centimeters. She weighs between 1 and 2kg and has a life expectancy of between 8 and 12 years. There have even been individuals in captivity who lived to be 18 years old.
The marten has a generally beige coat on the belly and brown on the upper body, with small black eyes. There are also albino varieties, which have an entirely white coat, and red eyes.
In case of danger, the marten, like many mustelids, is able to give off a strong odor, coming from its anal glands. This smell contributes to the non-popularity of this species.
Place of life of the marten
The stone marten is found in Europe and Central Asia. In Europe, it is mainly present in Spain and France. In Asia, it is mainly found in Mongolia.
You can find the marten in many environments, both in the forest and on the edge, in the mountains or even in towns. People living in cities can be found in gardens, attics, barns, or even garages.
The reproduction of the marten
This small mammal has a very particular reproductive function. Indeed, from June to August, it is the mating season. It is also during this period that you will have the best chance of being able to observe one, because they become less careful when looking for a breeding partner. So far, nothing abnormal.
Except that after copulation, the fertilized egg will not immediately implant in the uterus. The female marten will be in what is called a “dormant phase” during which gestation has not yet really started. This will not begin until eight months later, between the months of February and March. The actual gestation period is around 56 days, and the young will be born between late March and early May, in litters of three or four. The female marten therefore only has one litter per year.
When giving birth, the young are born very vulnerable, with their eyes closed and bare. They will therefore be very dependent on their mother, who will breastfeed and protect them for four weeks, after which they will open their eyes. However, they will not be weaned until after eight weeks, and from then on they will leave the nest for each to live on their own, the marten being a solitary animal. Females will be sexually mature between one and two years old.
The bad reputation of the marten
The stone marten is often described as a pest, which devastates everything in its path, in addition to bringing a terrible smell. Admittedly its smell is not the most pleasant, but it is very rare to find oneself in a situation where it really disturbs and on a daily basis.
She is also often accused of wreaking havoc in henhouses, but know that she does not come to attack the hens, which are too big prey for her. It enters the henhouses especially in winter, to find a little food, in this case, eggs. It is the squawking of the hens when she arrives that makes her feel assaulted, and out of survival instinct, she can actually kill them. But if her goal were really chickens, she would take her prey with her. The best way to avoid this kind of attack is to always check that your hen house is well secured and will not let a stone marten go through.
You now know a little more about this little carnivore that is the marten. It is unfortunately quite frowned upon and often considered a pest, but be aware that it cannot really cause you any harm, other than making a little noise in your attic if you have one. The marten is an animal like any other, so it is best to learn to live with it.
(photo credit: Bohuš Číčel – CC BY-SA 3.0)