The European pine marten (Martes martes) is a small carnivorous mammal that belongs to the weasel family, Mustelidae. It is found throughout much of Europe and northern Asia, and is closely related and very similar to the beech marten (martes foina). In Spanish it is called la marta.
Above image from the fantastic blog of Forest Locos (in Spanish): http://forestaleslocos.blogspot.com/2014/02/marta.html
It has a long, slender body, short legs, and a bushy tail. Its fur is typically dark brown, with a distinctive pale-yellow “bib” on its throat. It has sharp teeth and claws that it uses to catch and kill prey, which includes small mammals, birds, insects, and occasionally reptiles and amphibians.
European pine martens are primarily arboreal, meaning they spend much of their time in trees, but they also spend time on the ground. They are most active at dawn and dusk, and are generally solitary animals, except during the breeding season.
In the past, the European pine marten was heavily hunted for its fur, which was used in the production of clothing. This led to significant declines in its populations in some areas. However, in recent years, conservation efforts have helped to stabilize populations in many areas, and the species is now considered to be of “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Martens (Martes) in Spain
There are two species of martens in the genus Martes that are found in Europe: the European pine marten (Martes martes) and the beech marten (Martes foina). In Spain, the beech marten is known as “garduña” and the European pine marten is known as “marta.”
Read about the beech or stone marten here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/the-stone-marten/
How to tell the difference between the two Martes? A few clues
It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between the European pine marten (Martes martes) and the beech marten (Martes foina) because they are similar in appearance, especially in areas where their ranges overlap. However, there are some distinguishing characteristics that can help tell them apart:
- Size: The European pine marten is generally larger than the beech marten. The European pine marten can weigh up to 2 kg, while the beech marten usually weighs between 1-1.5 kg.
- Fur color: The European pine marten has darker fur than the beech marten. The European pine marten’s fur is typically dark brown, while the beech marten’s fur is usually a lighter brown color.
- Bib: The European pine marten has a more distinct “bib” of lighter-“yellowy” colored fur on its throat, while the beech marten usually has a white bib.
- Habitat: While both species can be found in similar habitats, the European pine marten is generally more associated with coniferous forests and mountainous areas, while the beech marten is more adaptable to a range of habitats, including urban and suburban areas.
- Behavior: The European pine marten is generally more arboreal (living in trees) than the beech marten, which tends to spend more time on the ground.
It is important to note that these characteristics are not always reliable for distinguishing between the two species, especially in areas where their ranges overlap. In such cases, genetic testing or detailed morphological analysis may be necessary to confirm the species.
An image detailing the differences between the two martes
I found this image at the website of The “Casa del Lobo” Interpretation Center (https://lacasadellobo.com) that houses a permanent exhibition that showcases one of the most emblematic species of Asturias, the Iberian wolf, from a primarily naturalistic perspective.” A fantastic interpretation centre in Belmonte de Miranda (Parque Natural de Somiedo)
Other clues for identification of the European pine marten (Martes martes)
The European pine marten (Martes martes) seems to be restricted to the north of Spain and northern Portugal whereas the beech marten is present across most of the peninsular in acceptable habitat. (So if you are in the south it’s likely to be a beech marten) territories overlap of course making things even more difficult!
The beech marten (Martes foina) is generally more adaptable to urban and suburban environments, and is sometimes considered a pest species in these areas so, if spotted in an urban environment its quite possible could be a beech marten. The European pine marten (Martes martes) is less likely to be found in such settings.
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