Martes zibellinasable

Geographic Range

Martes zibellina is found throughout northern Asia, once spanning the area from Scandinavia to northern China (Ognev, 1962). Its current distribution does not extend as far west, but it is still found throughout Siberia into northern China.


This species is found in the dense taiga forests, flatlands, and mountain regions of northern Asia (Grizimek , 1990). M. zibellina are found in the spruce and cedar forests of eastern Siberia and the larch and pine forests of western Siberia. It seems only to avoid extremely barren high mountain tops (Ognev, 1962). The species is mostly terrestrial, hunting and constructing dens on the forest floor (Ognev, 1962).

Physical Description

M. zibellina shows sexual dimorphism between males and females. Males have a body length between 380 -560 mm and a tail length between 90-120 mm. The weight of males ranges between 880-1800 grams while females weigh between 700 and 1560 grams. Female body length ranges between 350 and 510 mm and their tail length is 72-115 mm (Walker, 1995). The winter pelage is longer and more luxurious than the summer coat (Ognev, 1962). Fur color ranges from light to dark brown in different sub-species with individual fur color being lighter ventrally and darker on the back and legs (Gizimek, 1990). Individuals also display a light patch of fur on their throat which may be gray, white, or a pale yellow (Ognev, 1962).

  • Range mass
    700 to 1800 g
    24.67 to 63.44 oz
  • Range length
    350 to 560 mm
    13.78 to 22.05 in


Males are observed to create ruts, or shallow grooves in the snow about one meter long, accompanied with frequent urination (Tarasov, 1975). Mating takes place between June 15th and August 15th, with the date varying depending on geographic locality (Gizimek, 1990; Ognev, 1962). In areas where individuals are scarce, courting rituals involve running, jumping, and "cat-like rumbling" between males and females, but in areas where male ranges overlap competition for mates can lead to violent battles (Ognev, 1962).

M. zibellina enters heat in the spring. After insemination the blastocyst does not implant into the uteran wall of the female. Implantation occurs about eight months later and embryonic development takes only 25-30 days (Gizimek, 1990). The total pregnancy lasts from 250-300 days with females giving birth to litters ranging in size from 1-7 individuals, but smaller litters of 2-3 individuals are more common. Paternal care has been observed in some individuals as males protect the females' territory and have even been observed to provide food for nursing mothers and their litters (Tarasov, 1975)

  • Breeding season
    June 15th- August 15th
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 7
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    250 to 300 days
  • Average weaning age
    7 weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 to 3 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 to 3 years

Newly born young enter the world helpless, with unopened eyes and a very thin layer of hair (Grizimek, 1990). Newborns weigh between 25 and 35 grams and average 10cm in length (Grizimek, 1990 and Ognev, 1962). M. zibellina open their eyes between 30 and 36 days and leave the nest shortly afterwards (Grizimek, 1990; Walker, 1995). Seven weeks after birth, the young are weaned and are given regurgitated food by their mother (Ognev, 1962). M. zibellina reach sexual maturity in their second year of life (Walker, 1995).


On fur farms individuals have been observed to live up to 18 years, while individuals in the wild probably have a maximum lifespan of 8 years (Tarasov, 1975). Roughly two-thirds of the wild sable population is composed of individuals under two years of age (Tarasov, 1975)


Individuals are diurnal, using their sense of smell and hearing to hunt for small prey (Ognev, 1962). M. zibellina have been observed to hide in their dens for days during inclimate periods such as snow storms, or when they are being hunted by humans (Ognev, 1962). Although potentially vicious in the wild, accounts of domesticated individuals have described M. zibellina as playful, curious, and tame if taken from their mother at a young age (Ognev, 1962).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

M. zibellina are primarily carnivorous feeding on mice, chipmunks, squirrels, bird eggs, small birds, and even fish (Ognev, 1962). Individuals eat berries, cedar nuts, and vegetation when primary food sources are scare (Ognev, 1962). When weather conditions are exteme M. zibellina stores prey inside its den to sustain itself until it can hunt again (Ognev, 1962).

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • fish
  • eggs
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


M. zibellina is well equipped with sharp claws and sharp teeth to defend itself against non-human predators.

Ecosystem Roles

M. zibellina is a major predator of small rodents in northern Asia and Siberia.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

M. zibellina has been hunted for its fur throughout human history and population numbers had been severely reduced because of extensive hunting early this century (Grizimek, 1990). Hunting is only allowed by licensed persons now and fur farms have been established to allow wild populations to grow. These measures have allowed M. zibellina populations to grow and reestablish the wider range that they once occupied in the taiga (Grizimek, 1990)

Conservation Status

IUCN lists one subspecies, M. zibellina brachyurus (Japanese Sable) as "data deficient", but granted no special status to the species in general. was listed under appendix 1 status in 1994.


Jeremy Bates (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ondrej Podlaha (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

delayed implantation

in mammals, a condition in which a fertilized egg reaches the uterus but delays its implantation in the uterine lining, sometimes for several months.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats fish

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


1990. Grizimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals Volume 3. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Nowak, R. 1995. "Walker's Mammals of the World Online - The John Hopkins University Press" (On-line). Accessed November 18th, 2001 at

Ognev, S. 1962. Mammals of Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. Jerusalem: Israel Program for Scientific Translations.

Tarasov, P. 1975. Intraspecific Relations in Sable and Ermine. Pp. 45-54 in C King, ed. Mustelids: Some Soviet research. Boston Spa: British Liabrary Lending Division.