Martes foinabeech marten(Also: house marten)

Geographic Range

Martes foina occurs throughout much of Europe and central Asia. They are found as far north as Denmark, west to Spain, south into Italy, including the islands of Crete, Rhodes, and Corfu, and east to Mongolia and the Himalayas.

A population of beech martens is now established in Wisconsin, United States, as a result of the pet trade. (GCT-SECEM, 2004; Grizimek, 1990; Virgos and Garcia, 2002; Wild Natures, 2003)


Beech martens prefer open deciduous forest and rock outcroppings in mountainous habitats. They can be found at elevations up to 4,000 m during summer months. They prefer open landscapes, being less dependent on forested habitats than other Martes species. Martes foina is frequently found living near human habitation, where they may den in buildings. Natural den sites include abandoned burrows, hollow trees, and rocky crevices. (GCT-SECEM, 2004; Nowak, 1999; Virgos and Garcia, 2002; Wild Natures, 2003)

  • Range elevation
    4000 (high) m
    13123.36 (high) ft

Physical Description

Beech martens range in coloration from dark brown to pale grayish brown. A white or buffy streak can be seen just below the chin running down the neck to the chest. In some southern and eastern regions this white streak is absent. Young have grey dorsal fur. Martes foina have little to no fur on the soles of the feet. The limbs are long, a bushy tail is present, and the pelt is coarser than their close relative Martes martes, pine martens. The dental formula for martens is 3/3 (incisors), 1/1 (canine), 4/4 (premolars), and 1/2 (molars) producing a total of 38 teeth. Males and females are monomorphic. Total length varies between 40 and 50 cm from head to end of body. Beech martens have longer tails than pine martens, from 22 to 30 cm in length. Total weight ranges between 1.1 and 2.3 kg. The size of Martes foina has been compared to that of a domestic cat, but with a more slender body. (GCT-SECEM, 2004; Grizimek, 1990; Grzimek, 1975; Honer, et al., 2001; Nowak, 1999; Wild Natures, 2003)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    1.1 to 2.3 kg
    2.42 to 5.07 lb
  • Range length
    40 to 54 cm
    15.75 to 21.26 in


Beech martens are typically solitary animals, except during the mating season. Male territories overlap those of females, providing access to several potential mates. Males have a home range of about 12 to 211 ha. The range is largest in the summer mating season. Beech marten males will attempt to mate with females within their territory. During the month of July male testes reach their maximum size. Copulation begins midsummer (June through August). Cries of mating M. foina can be distinctly heard throughout the mating season and mainly at night. Olfaction plays an important role in locating prospective mates as well. When first approached by a male, females respond aggressively. Males calmly vocalize their intent with subtle cooing. A layer of subcutaneous fat on the dorsal surface of the neck is used as a place where males can grasp females during copulation, which may last up to an hour. After copulation, females groom themselves. (Bertusi and Tosetti, 2004; GCT-SECEM, 2004; Grizimek, 1990; Honer, et al., 2001; Lode, 1991; Nowak, 1999; Wild Natures, 2003)

Copulation of M. foina may occur midsummer, but implantation does not occur until early in the following spring. The blastocyst begins to develop in February. Total pregnancy time is 230 to 275 days, but development time of the embryo from time of implantation (true gestation) is approximately a month. Females give birth to 3 to 4 blind, hairless young. Weaning of the young occurs mid May, immediately before mating season begins. At 15 to 27 months young reach sexual maturity, with some females becoming pregnant in the year following their birth. (Bertusi and Tosetti, 2004; GCT-SECEM, 2004; Grzimek, 1975; Honer, et al., 2001; Nowak, 1999; Wild Natures, 2003)

  • Breeding interval
    Martes foina breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Mating occurs in midsummer (June to August).
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 4
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    230-275 days
  • Average gestation period
    30 days
  • Average weaning age
    2 months
  • Average time to independence
    1 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    15 to 27 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    15 to 27 months

Females care exclusively for their young, which are nursed and protected in the den for a period of time. Young are born naked, and with their ears and eyes closed. After weaning, which occurs at about two months, young learn hunting techniques from their mother. At the end of the summer they are independent. (GCT-SECEM, 2004; Grizimek, 1990; Honer, et al., 2001; Wild Natures, 2003)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • extended period of juvenile learning


Average longevity of M. foina in its natural habitat is 3 years. The maximum life expectancy in the wild is 10 years. In captivity, this species may live upwards of 18 years. (GCT-SECEM, 2004; Grizimek, 1990; Wild Natures, 2003)


Beech martens are primarily solitary animals, with the exception of family groups (mothers and young) and mating interactions. Martes foina is a nocturnal species, however, during the mating season they can frequently be seen during the day. The gait of this animal varies with the speed at which it is traveling. If the animal is strolling, the gait is meandering with the front feet parallel and the hind feet on a slight angle from the front. When the animal is running, the hind feet land in the same spot as the front feet. When on the prowl, beech martens surprise their prey by pouncing on them. They are excellent climbers, using this ability to access the nests of birds. (Bertusi and Tosetti, 2004; GCT-SECEM, 2004; Grizimek, 1990; Honer, et al., 2001; Wild Natures, 2003)

  • Range territory size
    121,402 to 2,108,343 m^2

Home Range

Beech martens are territorial, with an average home range of 12 to 211 ha. Size varies with season, with larger ranges in summer than winter. Males have significantly larger ranges than females. (Nowak, 1999)

Communication and Perception

Stone martens are solitary mammals that communicate primarily by using olfactory cues. Territorial boundaries and reproductive readiness are communicated in this way through scent marking. During the mating season their cries are audible. They are territorial and avoid contact with others of their kind. Martes foina individuals have excellent senses of sight and smell. Both of these senses are useful in darkness. (GCT-SECEM, 2004; Grizimek, 1990; Honer, et al., 2001; Nowak, 1999)

Food Habits

Martes foina is an opportunistic, omnivorous species, although animal prey are preferred. Diet varies with season and prey availability. They eat available small mammals and birds, especially nestlings and eggs. Bird eggs are eaten by making a small incision that allows the yolk to be sucked out, leaving a hollow shell. Beech martens will eat a wide variety of vertebrates and invertebrates, though, including frogs and large arthropods. During summer months seasonal berries, such as blackberries, raspberries, and elder berries are important, as well as other fruits. In some regions, vegetable matter is a major part of the summer diet. When food is scarce they will feed on carrion. Beech martens have also been known to raid chicken coops and rabbit hutches and cache excess food until it is needed, as do other mustelids. (Bertusi and Tosetti, 2004; GCT-SECEM, 2004; Grizimek, 1990; Nowak, 1999; Virgos and Garcia, 2002; Wild Natures, 2003)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


Little is known about defensive behaviors in M. foina. It is possible that they display a defense similar to their close relative Martes martes, where individuals place their head between their hind legs and arches their back when threatened. They are cryptically colored and generally secretive, making them difficult to detect. Beech martens are also agile in the trees and take refuge both in trees and burrows to escape threats. Like most mustelids, beech martens are aggressive and may successfully defend themselves against predators larger than themselves. They are mainly preyed on by large birds of prey, such as Eurasian eagle owls and larger predators, such as foxes. (Grzimek, 1975; Schaumann and Heinken, 2002)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Beech martens help to control the pest population of rats and mice in central Europe. They also provide nourishment for foxes, owls, and wildcats. Martes foina have been identified as a species that may contribute to seed dispersal in forested regions. Martes foina are considered to be important dispersal vectors for fleshy-fruited plants inhabiting the forests of Central Europe. The amount of seeds dispersed by stone martens has been determined by counting the seeds per scat, and seed dispersal as related to plant abundance in specific areas. Almost all endozoochorous seeds were from fleshy-fruited species found in M. foina range. (Grizimek, 1990; Honer, et al., 2001; Ruette, et al., 2003)

A study conducted on M. foina and helminths found that a majority of adult beech martens were infected by helminths. One cestode (Taenia martis) and three nematode (Molineus patens, Capillaria sp. and Angio strongylus sp.) species were identified.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Beech martens benefit farmers by helping to control rodent populations around farms. Pelts of these animals also have some value, though less than that of their relative Martes martes. Beech martens are traded as pets and live fairly long in captivity. (Grizimek, 1990; Nowak, 1999; Wild Natures, 2003)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

In urban areas M. foina can be a pest. They often den in attics, barns, and automobile engine compartments, damaging hoses and wires. Beech martens sometimes raid chicken coops and rabbit hutches. (Bertusi and Tosetti, 2004; GCT-SECEM, 2004; Grzimek, 1975; Wild Natures, 2003)

  • Negative Impacts
  • household pest

Conservation Status

One unidentified form of Martes foina that once occupied the island of Ibiza in the Balearic Islands was hunted to extinction in the 1960’s. Other beech marten populations are not considered threatened. (Nowak, 1999)

Other Comments

Martes foina is immune to bee and wasp stings, a defense that allows it to get to honey without injury. Beech martens seem to thrive near human habitation. (GCT-SECEM, 2004; Grizimek, 1990)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Kimberlee Carter (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


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.


helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals


flesh of dead animals.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

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


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

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


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


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


lives alone

stores or caches food

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


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


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.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Bertusi, T., T. Tosetti. 2004. "I Mammiferi dell'Emilia-Romagna" (On-line). Faina Martes foina . Accessed February 07, 2004 at

GCT-SECEM, G. 2004. "Ressourcen, raumliche und soziale Organisation" (On-line). Martes foina. Accessed February 07, 2004 at

Grizimek, B. 1990. Martes foina. Pp. 411-412,416,442 in B Grizimek, ed. Grizimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals, Vol. 3, 6th Edition. Boston, USA: McGraw-Hill.

Grzimek, D. 1975. Martes foina. Pp. 39,54,48,61,65 in H Grizimek, ed. Grizimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia: Mammals III, Vol. 12, 5th Edition. Germany: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Honer, A., D. Petzold, M. Schleef, S. Schulze, C. Wurth. 2001. "The steinmarder (Martes foina) in Baden-Wuettemberg" (On-line). Accessed February 07, 2004 at

Lode, T. 1991. Mating Behaviors of Martes foina . Acta Theriologica, 36(3-4): 275-283.

Nowak, R. 1999. Martens. Pp. 716-717 in Walker's Mammals of the World, Vol. I, 6th Edition. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Ruette, S., P. Stahl, M. Albaret. 2003. Endozoochorous seed dispersal by stone and/or pine martens. Wildlife Biology, 9(1): 11-19.

Schaumann, F., T. Heinken. 2002. Helminths Present in Mustelideas. Flora, 197(5): 370-378.

Virgos, E., F. Garcia. 2002. Patch occupancy by stone martens Martes foina in fragmented landcapes of central Spain: the role of fragment size, isolation and habitat structure. Acta Oecologica - International Journal of Ecology, 23(4): 231-237.

Wild Natures, K. 2003. "Wild Natures-Beech Marten (Martes foina)" (On-line). Accessed February 07, 2004 at