Under Construction May 2011


Martes americana


Length: 50-60mm (Adorjan and Kolenosky 1969), 36mm max (Moore et al 1974), 25-30mm 80mm tail (ASM #3), 15-20mm 90mm tail (ASM #4), 25-40 (ASM #5)

Diameter Range: 72-176 microns (Brown 1942), 108 microns (Moore et al 1974), 62.5-100 (ASM #3),  Base area 25-30 microns and shield area 97-115 microns (ASM #5)

Medullary Index: 0.67 (Brown 1942) 0.5-0.6 (ASM #3). 0.71 (ASM #4) base 0.5 and shield 0.77 (ASM #5)

Medulla: Brown (1942) observes the medullary cells at the base robust, flattened, often joined together as in a horizontal “H” or “U” shape.  Cells in the medulla not separated by pigment masses, like we see in canids.  Toth (2002) reports medullar margins at the shield are scalloped, or have undulating S-shapes.  He called the medulla pattern “cloisonné”.  ASM samples seemed to have cells that are continuous and span the width of the medulla. These cells are often joined and do appear like bubble “H” letters, or like slender fingers of the cortex pressing into either side of the medulla (ASM#1, 3). The medulla in ASM #4 Martin has elongated and flattened ovals that look similar to fish scales , between 3-4 microns, that go across the width of the medulla ( ASM#4). These cells are closely arranged and have a dark border around each.

The medulla changed from the root of the hair to the tip in the number of cells that span the width of the medulla. Additionally the cells become more complex; at first there is only one cell that occupies the width of the medulla, as the hair moves towards the tip at least 4 cells wide appear to occupy the width of the medulla and they take on the fish-scale appearance then gradually taper off to one cell wide as it nears the tip. 

Color: Some of the fibers have a streaky red-brown quality throughout the cortex ( ASM#1, 4). Adorjan and Kolenosky (1969) say the hair is light grayish-brown near the base and then gets darker. Moore et al (1974) say the hair is unbanded but has a gray base, reddish brown shaft and black tip (tricolor).

Scales: Scales at the base include a long tine pointing toward the tip that may distinguish the genus martes from the genus mustela? Scales appear petal-like and stay close against the shaft of the hair. On our samples it is difficult to detect the tine. Scale cast shows that scales change along the length of the fiber from individual petal-like scales to the torn paper-like scales. (ASM #1)  No tine obvious on the Moore et al photo (1974)


Length: 20-25mm (Adorjan and Kolenosky 1969), 15-20mm (ASM #3), 10-15mm (ASM #4), 20-25mm (ASM#5)

Diameter Range: 20-36 (Brown 1942). 12.5 (ASM 1,3,4)

Medullary Index: 0.56 (Brown 1942)

Medulla: 5.0-7.5 microns from ASM#1 and 3 respectively. Both medullas have a uniserial ladder and no pigmentation present.

Color: grayish-brown (Adorjan and Kolenosky 1969)

Scales: Petal-like, on example measured at 25 microns from tip to tip (ASM #1,3)

Macro Qualities: 21.7 – 25.4” long (Forsyth 1999)  19-25” not including the tail.  Coloration varies from pale yellow to dark brown.  Lighter colored martins may have gray tails.  There may be a short dark line extending up the forehead from the corner of each eye.  Throat and upper chest range from pale to orange (ADF&G 2008). Blue-black to pale canary in color, fair “serviceability  (Bachrach 1953). ASM taxidermy sample has sporadic white guard hairs, very long guard hairs at the tip of tail.  Reddish-brown guard hair, deeper chocolate brown on legs.  Large and slightly pointed ears are bigger than mink ears.  Irregular creamy patch on chin.  Underfur is lighter and paler near the skin.  Marten is similar to mink in some ways, but the mink is aquatic and the marten is not.  Marten have less luster.

Cultures: For example: Yup’ik upriver hunters (p.245) Fienup-Riordan (2007) Yuungnaqpiallerput: The Way We Genuinely Live.  Masterworks of Yup’ik Science and Survival.  Anchorage Museum Association. 

Notes: ASM #1 is from the Sheldon Jackson Museum touchboard, ASM #2 is from a handmade hat in a private collection and includes fur from Prince of Wales Island.  ASM #3 is from ASM off site storage, ASM #4 is from a taxidermy mount made for the museum’s eagle tree exhibit by AARRKK Taxidermy, ASM #5 is from the Juneau-Douglas City Museum touchboard.  Similar in color, size and shape to the mink, but found upland while mink are more typical in streams and coastal areas.  There is another marten called the “Pacific Marten” which is very rare and thought to seen occasionally on islands of Southeast Alaska. (MacDonald and Cook 2009) although the University of Alaska Fairbanks seems to list this as a subspecies of the American marten.

Troubleshooting:  Differ from mink in the color (banded tricolor black/red/brown/gray) and the shaft thickness?  Mink, martin and fisher can be difficult to distinguish. In our only sample of fisher, it seemed that the tip of the guard hair may be so darkly pigmented that the medulla can no longer be observed.  This did not happen in any of our mink or marten samples.  One mink sample had an absent or fragmentary medulla in the stalk region.  The underfur of the marten (15-25mm) seems longer than the underfur of the mink (less than 15mm) and this may be a clue.  Generally, guard hairs on the mink will not exceed 25mm, perhaps extending to 30mm on the tail.  If the length of the guard hairs is longer, marten is more likely?

Range: Southeast Alaska and most of the forested areas of Alaska with range ending where true arctic tundra begins.  Prefer pine or spruce forests.

Names: Family Mustelidae (the mustelids)  Smaller than a fisher Martes pennatiMartes martes is the European Pine Marten.  Sometimes the American Marten is also called a pine marten.  Recent studies suggest that martens on Admiralty and Kuiu islands may belong to a separate species called the Pacific Marten Martes caurina.  The marten’s soft dense fur is sometimes known as sable, and the animal as “American Sable”  (ADF&G 2008).  A Hudson Bay Sable is the same as an American marten (Samet 1950).

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