On a recent hike into the Beartooth Mountains, my wife and friend spotted an unusual creature loping across a meadow.
My friend identified the furry, slender animal as a marten. I was jealous. I’ve never seen a marten in the wild.
Martens are members of the weasel, or mustelidae, family, which includes minks, otters and badgers. Martens grow to the size of a house cat, according to the Montana Field Guide, weighing from 1.5 to 2.75 pounds.
Like some other members of the same family, martens have hind feet that can rotate 180 degrees. This makes it easier for them to climb down trees, since their back feet can be facing up.
Martens are found across the northern regions of North America. They have a relative that lives in Scotland and Ireland. In those countries the martens are helping to kill nonnative gray squirrels, helping the native red squirrels’ population to grow once again.
Martens dine on other small forest creatures, like mice and voles, but will also eat fruit, plants and insects.
Here are some ways to recognize a marten: it has yellowish-brown fur on its throat and chest with darker hair on its short legs and tail, pointy large ears like a cat and a pointed face. To tell the marten from other small mammals, the Field Guide noted: “Mink has white patch on chin. Fisher is larger, dark brown with grizzled head and back. Red Fox has white tip on tail.”
On the drive back from our hike, my friend also saw a red fox alongside the road, and a short-tailed weasel darted across the highway in front of the car. It was a small-carnivore weekend.
— Brett French, email@example.com