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Elusive and Adorable American Marten Spotted on Wisconsin’s Madeline Island

Wisconsin has only one animal on its list of state endangered mammals, the American marten (Martes americana). 

One of these crafty tree dwellers has been spotted on Lake Superior’s Madeline Island, documented on film for the first time. It was captured on trail camera footage as part of the “Wild Madeline” project, conducted by Northland College. 

The American marten is shy and difficult to spot in the wild. They like to live alone, hide in trees, and are nocturnal. Martens thrive in dense forest habitats with plentiful pine trees and shrubs, perfect for building dens and burrows. 

The American marten. Image by Jacob B. Frank/NPS

Lake Superior’s islands have a complex forest ecosystem, which suits the American marten perfectly. Madeline Island is the largest of the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. Over the years, several efforts have been made to re-introduce the marten to this environment, and biologists are hopeful to find more evidence of them in this part of Wisconsin. 

In Europe, sightings of a distant cousin, the pine marten, have been reported this week. This trail camera footage shows pine martens exploring a forest in Shropshire, England. In Ireland, the creature is known as the cat crainn, or “the tree cat”. 

The marten is a small mammal in the mustelid family, which also includes weasels and sea otters. These creatures bear a close resemblance to the pine marten, their European relative, but they are not identical. Martens have soft fur, the shade of chestnut brown, with a fox-like face and pointy ears. They are about the size of a house cat and can move quickly up and down trees. Although they may look adorable, they are vicious predators with sharp claws, and keen hunters of small prey. 

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