Fun Facts About Ireland’s Unusual Pine Marten
If you've ever visited Ireland, maybe you caught a glimpse of the country's native species, such as the small red deer or (with a bit of Irish luck on your side) the pine marten.
Not something that’s easily seen, this cute mammal would certainly be a boon if you were to catch a glimpse of one. Read on to learn 30 fun facts about the pine marten, which looks like a weasel or ferret but is, unfortunately, much more difficult to spot.
What Is a Marten, Anyway?
A marten is a member of the weasel family, along with other mammals such as weasels, otters and badgers.
They closely resemble weasels and ferrets, which are from the same Mustelidae family.
How to Tell a Pine Marten From a Ferret or Weasel
The three animals look very similar and can be hard to tell apart.
However, pine martens are bigger than ferrets or weasels. They also have longer legs and a longer, very bushy tail, compared to the other two species.
They’re Native to Ireland
The pine marten is a native species to Ireland and is found throughout all of the country’s counties.
Habitat loss has shrunk their homes, but they are mostly found in coniferous and mixed wood areas, according to the National Museums of Northern Ireland.
Pine Martens Are Rare
The pine marten is one of Ireland’s rarest mammals.
Unfortunately, their exact numbers are unknown, but rough estimates put their population at around 4,000.
Pine Martens Are Protected
At the beginning of the 20th century, the pine marten was extinct in a majority of the counties in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
But in 1976, they were listed as a protected species under the Wildlife Act. Since then, their numbers have bounced back some.
Humans Were the Main Cause of the Pine Marten’s Depletion
Aside from the loss of habitat, the pine marten was also hunted for its fur, which played a large role in population depletion. Martens were also poisoned either on purpose or accidently.
Today, cars also play a large role in population losses, as they are often hit when trying to cross roads.
They Have Their Own Website
The pine marten has its own website. Created in 2019, the website helps answer questions that the Vincent Wildlife Trust and the National Parks & Wildlife Service kept receiving from people who had encountered a pine marten.
It gives general information as well as what to do if you find yourself living with a marten in your home (apart from grabbing it a pint of Guinness, of course).
Pine Martens Are About the Size of a Domestic Cat
Bigger than ferrets or weasels, the pine marten is roughly the size of a domestic cat. Adults weigh between 2 and 4.5 pounds, while females are a bit smaller.
Their total body length, including their head, is around 24 inches.
Pine Martens Are Always Brown
Pine martens are a dark, rich brown color, with a light-colored bib on their throat and chest.
In the winter, their undercoat changes to a lighter brown.
They Have an Irish Name
In Ireland, the pine marten is called “cat crainn,” which means “tree cat.”
The name is quite fitting, considering they’re about the size of a cat and dwell in and around trees.
Pine Martens Are Mostly Carnivores
Like many species in the same family, pine martens eat meat, such as smaller mammals, insects, bird and amphibians.
But they also eat fruits, especially berries.
They Are Solitary Animals
Pine martens do not live with other adult martens.
In fact, they avoid each other except during mating season, which happens in early summer.
Pine Martens Reproduce Using Delayed Implantation
Interestingly, while pine martens mate in early summer, they do not have kits until March or April. This is not due to a long gestation but rather delayed implantation, in which the fertilized eggs are not attached to the uterus until much later.
In the case of the pine marten, this does not happen until January, ensuring that kits will be born in the spring.
They Are Slow to Develop
Unlike many wildlife species, the pine marten is slow to mature. They do not reach sexual maturity until around 2 years old.
Most kits don’t make it to this age to reproduce, which contributes to the low population.
Kits Stay With The Female for a Long Time
Since they are slow to develop, pine marten kits stay with the female until they are between 12 to 16 months old.
Then, they leave and try to establish their own territory.
Pine Martens Are Territorial
It should be no surprise that a solitary animal would be territorial. Each pine marten will mark out their territory, which sometimes overlaps with other individuals.
The approximate size of a pine marten’s territory is large, sometimes as large as 1,000 acres.
They Are Mainly Nocturnal
Like many members of the weasel family, the pine martin is typically nocturnal, but it changes with the seasons. During the spring and summer, they are more active during daylight hours, whereas in the fall, they are more active at night.
In the winter, they spend a lot of their time sleeping in their dens.
Pine Martens Can Have a Long Lifespan
The pine marten can live up to 12 years, although experts say they often do not live longer than five to eight years.
That’s due to predators, loss of habitat, crossing roads and human persecution.
There Are Several Places Named After Them
The pine marten is a big part of Irish history and tradition.
There are several places named after them, including Líos na gCat and Cathair an chaitín.
They Are a Part of Irish Folklore
The pine marten also appears in Irish folklore.
According to the pine marten website, there are references to the marten in stories about Fionn MacCumhaill, a mythical hunter-warrior.
They Inspired a Band
There was even a band named after the pine marten, called — wait for it! — the Pine Marten Band.
The musicians played modern string music that drew upon folk music from around the world.
Pine Martens Will Eat Cat Food
As their numbers bounce back, the pine marten is finding that its territory overlaps with humans more than ever.
Since they will eat a variety of things, including your cat’s food, they can easily be attracted to homes.
Special Bird Feeders Are Needed to Keep Pine Martens Out
Since birds and their eggs are part of the pine marten diet, Irish homeowners often find their bird feeders or houses vandalized by the spry mammal.
To keep them out, special feeders need to be employed.
Pine Martens Can Climb Tree
Another reason why the Irish name of them is so apt is that the pine marten is an excellent tree climber.
They use their long, strong claws to grip the trunk and branches.
They’re Hard to Spot
The pine marten is a shy animal, making them hard to find. Even if you are visiting during spring and summer, when they are most active, you will have a hard time spotting one.
According to the National Museums Northern Ireland, a good place to look is the Crom Estate in Fermanagh County.
The Pine Marten Is an Old Species
Native to Ireland, the pine marten has inhabited the island for at least 6,000 years.
During medieval times, its fur was prized.
Pine Martens Will Eat Farm Fowl
If you own some land and have chickens, quail, ducks or other game fowl, you have to be on the lookout for martens, as they will eat them.
In fact, gamekeepers have to make sure their chicken houses are marten-proof.
They Will Use Homes as Den Sites
Pine martens will also use homes — inhabited or not — as den sites to have their kits.
As such, Irish homeowners have to check and make sure their attics are marten-proof each spring.
It’s Illegal to Own a Pine Marten in Minnesota
While many states in the U.S. don’t allow residents to own ferrets as pets, it’s interesting to note that Minnesota also has made owning the rare pine marten illegal.
Other states do not mention the species by name, but you can probably assume if your state doesn’t allow ferrets, it won’t allow a pine marten either.