1902 Encyclopedia > Marten


MARTEN, 1 the name of a group of animals constituting a small but well-defined section of the family Musteli4 belonging to the Arctoid or Bear-like division of the order Carnivore (see 3ilioniALIA, pp. 439, 440 of the present volume).

The genus ilfustela, as restricted by Cuvier (Revue Animal, 1817), contains a very natural assemblage of animals commonly called Martens, Sables, Polecats, Stoats, Ermines, and Weasels, all closely allied in structure and habits. A structural division, however, occurs between the two first-named and all the others, especially shown in the presence of an additional small premolar tooth on each side of each jaw ; and, availing himself of this. and some other minor characters, Cuvier divided the genus into two subgenera., for the first of which he retained the name of 3[ltste/a, and to the second assigned that of ?iitorins. Three years later Nilsson (Skatul. Fauna, 1820) definitely constituted the two groups into genera, applying to the first the name of llfartes, by which the animals composing it had been generally designated by the Latin-writing zoologists of the preceding century, and keeping Mustela for the: more typical Weasels and their immediate allies. Later zoologists have been divided between the nomenclature of Cuvier, which has the priority, and that of Nilsson, which on other grounds is preferable. Those who adopt the latter affirm that Cuvier's names, being only used by him in a subgcneric sense, and not binomially, need not be applied generically ; but this is contrary to the practice usually followed in such cases. Others avoid the difficulty by not breaking up the genus at all, and so apply the term Mustela to all the species. The result is that the generic name of the Martens in modern zoological works oscillates between Ma rtes and Mustela, according to the views of the writer.

The following characters apply to the restricted group of Martens proper, by whatever name they are called. Body long, slender, and very flexible, though less so than in the true Weasels. Head somewhat triangular ; muzzle pointed, the nose extending a little beyond the lips ; eyes large and prominent ; ears conspicuous, broad, somewhat triangular, rounded at the ends, furred outside and in ; limbs short ; feet rounded ; toes short, five on each foot, all with short, compressed, curved, sharp-pointed claws. Soles densely furred between the naked pads. Tail moderately long, more or less busby. Outer fur long, strong, and glossy ; a very abundant soft under fur.

Vertebrx : C 7, D 14-, L 6, S 3, C 18-23. Skull elongated and depressed. Facial portion moderate and rather compressed. Zygomata arched and wide but slender. Postorbital processes small. Auditory bullm large, but not very globose. Mandible with a strong triangular vertical coronoid process and a well-developed angular process.

Dentition : i c p 911 j total 38. Upper incisors in a straight transverse line, rather long and compressed ; first and second snbequal, third considerably larger. Lower incisors very small, especially the first, and crowded together, the second placed rather behind the others. Canines long and sharp-pointed. Upper premolars : first very small, with simple crown and one root; second and third nearly equal in size and two-rooted, with simple compressed sharp-pointed crowns, with very slightly developed accessory cusps ; fourth (the sectorial) with blade consisting chiefly of the central and posterior cusps, the anterior being rudimentary, inner tubercle small and confined to the anterior part of the tooth. True molar tubercular, about twice as wide transversely as in the antero-posterior direction, having an outer, more elevated, but smaller portion, bearing three blunt tubercles; to the inner side of this the crown is contracted, and its surface deeply hollowed ; it then expands again into a broad low lobe, with the central part elevated, and a raised, even, semicircular, slightly crenated internal border. Lower premolars : first very small, simple, and one-rooted ; second, third, and fourth increasiug slightly in size, with high compressed pointed crowns and posterior accessory cusps, best marked in the-third. First molar (sectorial) with well-marked bilobed blade, - heel scarcely more than one-third of the length of the tooth, and a very small inner tubercle. Second molar small, single-rooted, with a low, flattened, subcircular or oval tubercular crown.

In geographical distribution the Martens are limited to the northern hemisphere, ranging throughout the greater part of the northern temperate regions of both Old and New Worlds, as far north as conditions of existence suited to their habits are met with, and southwards in America to 35° N. let., while in Asia one species is met with as far as the island of Java.

The various species appear to be very similar in their habits. They live in woods and rocky places, and are thoroughly arboreal, spending most of their time in trees, although descending to the ground in quest of prey. They climb with great facility, and are agile and graceful in their movements. Some species are said occasionally to resort to berries and other fruit for food, but as a rule they are strictly carnivorous, feeding chiefly on birds and their eggs, small mammals, as squirrels, hares, rabbits, and moles, but chiefly mice of various kinds, of which they destroy great numbers, and occasionally snakes, lizards, and frogs. In proportion to their size they are among the most bloodthirsty of animals, though less so than the true Weasels. The female usually makes her nest of moss, dried leaves, and grass in the hollow of a tree, but sometimes in a hole among rocks or ruined buildings, and produces several young at a birth, usually from four to six. Though wild and untameable to a great degree if captured when fully grown, when taken young they are very docile, and have frequently been made pets of, not having the strong unpleasant odour of the smaller Mustelidle. The common European Marten appears to have been partially domesticated by the Creeks and Romans, and to have been used to keep houses clear from rats and mice before cats were introduced.' In the same way, according to Hodgson, an allied species, the Yellow-bellied Weasel (Mustela " is exceedingly prized by the Nepalese for its service in ridding houses of rats. It is easily tamed ; and such is the dread of it common to all marine animals that not one will approach a house where it is domiciled." It is, however, to the great value attached to the pelts of these animals that their importance to man is chiefly due. Though all yield fur of serviceable quality, the commercial value varies immensely, not only according to the particular species from which it is obtained, but according to individual variation, depending upon age, sex, season, and other trifling circumstances. The skins from northern regions are more full and of a finer colour and gloss than those from more temperate climates, as are those of animals killed in winter compared to the same individuals in the summer season. The caprices of fashion have, moreover, set wholly factitious values upon slight shades of colour, recognized and named by experienced furriers, but not indicating any specific or other distinctions are obtained.

With the exception of the Pekan Of. pennant° all the Martens are so much alike in size, general colouring, and cranial and dental characters that the discrimination of the species, and assignment of the proper geographical distribution to each, has been a subject which has sorely perplexed the ingenuity and patience of zoologists. The following description by Dr Elliott Cones of the external characters of the American Pine Marten (11f. americana) will apply almost equally well to most of the others. " It is almost impossible to describe the colour of the Pine Marten, except in general terms, without going into the details of the endless diversities occasioned by age, sex, season, or other incidents. The animal is brown,' of a shade from orange or tawny to quite blackish ; the tail and feet are ordinarily the darkest, the head lightest, often quite whitish ; the ears are usually rimmed with whitish ; on the throat there is usually a large tawny-yellowish or orange-brown patch, from the chin to the fore legs, sometimes entire, sometimes broken into a number of smaller, irregular blotches, sometimes wanting, sometimes prolonged on the whole under surface, when the animal is bicolor like a Stoat in summer. The general ` brown' has a greyish cast, as far as the under fur is concerned, and is overlaid with rich lustrous blackish-brown in places where the long bristly hairs prevail. The claws are whitish ; the naked nose pad and whiskers are black. The tail occasionally shows interspersed white hairs, or a white tip."

The species generally recognized as distinct are the following, the first five belonging to the Ohl and the last two to the New World.

Mustela foina, Erxleben ; the Beech Marten, Stone Marten, or White-breasted Marten. - Distinguished from the following by the greater breadth of the skull, and some minute but constant dental characters, by the dull greyish-brown colour of the fur of the upper parts, and the pure white of the throat and breast. It inhabits the greater part of the Continent of Europe, but is more southern than the next in its distribution, not being found in Sweden or Norway, nor, according to the recent investigations of Mr Alston, in the British Isles, although included in their fauna by all earlier writers.

MARTEN common in most parts of Great Britain and Ireland. Though commonly called " Pine Marten," it does not appear to have any special preference for coniferous trees, except that, inasmuch as they constitute the greater proportion of the forests of the countries which it inhabits, it is more often met with in them than in any other. With regard to its recent occurrence in the British Isles, Mr Alston writes in Proc. of Zool. Society of London, 1879 : - " Attiough greatly reduced in numbers by persecution, it still maintains its ground in the wilder districts of Scotland, the north of F.naland, Wales, and Ireland ; and occasionally specimens are killed in counties where Clic species was thought to have been long extinct. le Scotland It Is still found, though comparatively rarely, in the Lews and In most of the Highland mainland counties, being perhaps most abundant In Sutherland and Ross-shire, especially in the deer forests. In the Lowlands a Marten is now a very great rarity ' • but a fine exampic was killed in Ayrshire In the winter of 1875-76. In the not tllof England Mr W. A. Durnford says the species Is 'still plentiful' to the wilder parts of Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Lancashire, and in Lincolnshire several have been recorded, the latest killed in 1865, by Mr Cordeaux.1 In Norfolk one was shot last year ; and I have myself examined a fine example which was shot in Hertfordshire, within 20 miles of London, in December 1879. In Dorsetshire the last is said to have been killed in 1804 ; but a specimen (recurred in llampshire about forty years ago, and another in Surrey in 1847. In Ireland the following counties were enummated by Thompson as habitats of this species : Donegal, Londonderry, Antrim, Down, Armagh, Fermanagh, Longford, Galway, Tipperary. Cork, and Kerry. The Cat-crann is probably now a rarer animal In Ireland than it was when Thompson wrote ; but it still exists in various districts, especially in County Kerry, whence the society has received several 11% ing examples ; and Professor A. Leith Adams states that it has been seen of late years even in county Dublin."

H. zebcllina, Linnmus ; the Sable (German, Zobel and Zebel ; Swedish, sabel; Russian, sobel, it word probably of Turanian origin). - Closely resembling the last, if indeed differing from it except in the quality of the fur, which is the most highly valued of that of all the group. Found chiefly in eastern Siberia.

3f. flavigula, Boddaert ; the Indian Martcm - Inhabits the southern slopes of the Himalayas, the Nilgiri Hills, the interior of Ceylon, the Malay Peninsula, and Java.

AL mclampus, Wagner. - Japan.

3f. americana, Turton ; the North-American Sable or Marten. - A species so closely allied to the European Pine.Martcts and Asiatic Sable that it is very difficult to assign constant distinguishing characters between them. The importance of the fur of this animal as an article of commerce may be judged of from the fact that 15,000 skins were sold in one year by the Hudson's Bay Company as long ago as 1743, and the more recent annual imports into Great Britain have exceeded 100,000. It is ordinarily caught in wooden traps of very simple construction, being little enclosures of stakes or brush in which the bait is placed upon a trigger, with a short upright stick supporting a log of wood, which falls upon its victim on the slightest disturbance. A line of such traps, several to a mile, often extends many miles. The bait is any kind of meat, a mouse, squirrel, piece of fish, or bird's head. It is principally trapped during the colder months, from October to April, when the fur is in good condition, as it is nearly valueless during the shedding in summer. DC Cones tells us that, notwithstanding the persistent and uninterrupted destruction to which the American Sable is subjected, it does not appear to diminish materially in numbers in unsettled parts of the country. It holds its own partly in consequence of its shyness, which keeps it away from the abodes of men, and partly because it is so prolific, bringing forth six te. eight young at a litter. Its home is sometimes a den under ground or beneath rocks, but oftener the hollow of a tree, and it is said frequently to take forcible possession of a squirrel's nest, driving off or devouring the rightful proprietor.

See Elliott Cosies, Fur-bearing Animals, a Monograph of Forth American,- Mustelithe, 1877; E. R. Alston, "0n the British Martens," Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1879, p. 468. (W. H. F.)

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