American marten, referred to as sable in the fur industry, was generally valued more for its fur than as a food source. Nevertheless, it represented an important subsistence resource when principal food sources were scarce. Marten was an emergency food for the Bella Coola (Nuxalk), Hare (Sahtu), Tahltan and Attawapiskat Cree [1-4]. Other cultures reported to have consumed marten include Northern Okanagan, Lakes, Colville, Upper Stalo, Northern Coast Salish, Shuswap, Fort Nelson Slave (Dene), Chandalar Kutchin (Gwich’in), Koyukon, Red Earth Cree, Plains Cree, Mistissini Cree, James Bay Cree, Round Lake Ojibwa (Anishinabek) and Montagnais-Naskapi (Innu) [1, 5-17]. Marten remains were found at archeological sites on Admiralty Island and Gupuk, Mackenzie Delta in Northwestern Canada, suggesting it was used by the Tlingit and Precontact Mackenzie culture, respectively [18, 19].
The Spokane, Coast Salish, Northern Okanagan, Lakes, Colville, Gitksan (Gitxsan), Tlingit, Chipewyan and Micmac (Mi'kmaq) trapped marten for its fur [7, 18, 20-26]. The Mistissini Cree trapped marten in winter for its thick fur and in summer and early winter for its fat and flesh . The Peel River Kutchin, Crow River Kutchin and Plains Cree trapped martens for fur, but also ate them when food was scarce [28, 29]. Marten was considered an important small furbearer to the Western Woods Cree and the Ahtna [5, 30]. According to the Tlingit, the best time to catch marten was in February and March whereas the Haida trapped in October [31, 32] and the Okanagan, Waswanipi and Ingalik preferred to catch marten in winter [33-35].
Traditionally deadfalls, pitfalls, snares, spears, bows and arrows were used to kill marten, while in modern times steel traps became common [27, 36-38]. Deadfalls were the most widespread method used to catch martens [1, 36, 39-43].
Marten skins were used to make robes for wealthy Tlingit. During the fur trade, marten pelts became highly valuable trade items . A taboo regarding martens required Ahtna hunters to keep the skins separate from all other dead animals until they were dried . According to de Laguna, the marten was associated with witchcraft and shamanism and in certain circumstances, Tlingit avoided this animal . They were known as nu’tci’ to Tutchone, k’úxw to Tlingit and chal-chen to Okanagan [32, 34].
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The American marten (Martes americana) is a small mammalian carnivore occurring throughout northern North America, from Alaska, forested habitats of Canada, and to mountainous regions of western United States. They have been eliminated from some parts of their range, especially in southeastern areas where they were plentiful during colonial times.
The American marten is member of the mustelid family, including weasels, American mink (Neovison vison), wolverine (Gulo gulo), fisher (Martes pennanti), and otters. They are most closely related to the fisher being in the same genus, but are smaller and lighter coloured. Like other weasels, American martens have dense fur, highly prized in the fur industry, long canines, rounded ears, short limbs, and a long, slender body. Adults typically weigh 1 kg, with males being almost twice as big as females. They have a yellowish to dark brown, sometimes almost black, pelage with paler orange or straw coloured spots on the chest.
American martens are most often solitary, except during the breeding season. They are polygamous and mate during the summer. Like many other weasels, females can delay the implantation of the embryo to give birth in a more favorable season. This leads to an apparent gestation period of around 250 days, while true pregnancy occurs for only about 30 days. Young, usually one litter of around 3 pups, are born in spring the following year. They grow to an adult size within around 3 months and live for up to 15 years.
They are closely associated with forested habitats, from mature coniferous forests to structurally complex deciduous forests. They are active all year and at any time during the day and night. Unlike most other weasels, but similarly to the fisher, American martens are not only traveling, foraging, and resting on and under the ground, but also in trees. They have a very diverse diet, feeding mostly on voles and mice, but also on other small mammals, birds, fruits, and seeds.
Wilson DE, Ruff S: The Smithsonian book of North American mammals. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press; 1999.