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Thursday, June 5, 2003

ANIMAL TRACKER

Japanese marten


* Japanese name: Nihon ten
* Scientific name: Martes melampus
* Description: Martens are weasel-like animals but much larger and more powerfully built. Males are 45-49 cm long (females 41-43 cm) and the tail adds another 17-20 cm. They weigh 1.3-5 kg. In winter they have orange fur and a white face, often with paler fur at the throat. In the summer, the coat changes and the face turns black.
* Where to find them: From Honshu to Kyushu, in forests and woods. Martens have wide hands and feet, with sharp claws, enabling them to climb trees. They live alone and are active both day and night. There is a subspecies that lives on Tsushima Island. Although its numbers are not large, this subspecies is legally protected. Population sizes have dropped all over Japan because of excessive hunting for fur and because of the harmful effects of agricultural insecticides. Unfortunately, you might have a better chance seeing a dead marten, like the one in this photo, than a live one.
* Food: Like all mustelids, martens have sharp teeth, strong jaws and a powerful bite. They are agile predators. Most use scent to track their prey, though their hearing is also well-developed. Rats and mice are probably the most preyed upon animal, but frogs may also be eaten. Some eat a high proportion of insects or other invertebrates, others primarily fruit or honey.
* Special features: Breeding takes place in early spring. In many species of marten, however, birth does not occur until the following year. The gestation period lasts more than 300 days because of delayed implantation. The fertilized egg starts dividing as it travels down the oviduct, and when it reaches the uterus (it is now a blastocyst, an embryo), it becomes inactive and cell division stops. The blastocyst remains inactive for months before it implants itself into the womb wall and normal development continues. In the Japanese marten, a litter of two young are born. The kittens have little fur and are altricial. And after such a marathon pregnancy, what does the female do? She mates again within the week.



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