Martes melampusJapanese marten

Geographic Range

Martes melampus melampus is found on the islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu in Japan. M. melampus melampus was introduced from Honshu to Sado and Hokkaido Islands in Japan by 1949 to increase fur products (Hosoda et al. 1999). Its distribution is southwestern Hokkaido, specifically the low altitude areas of the Oshima Peninsula and Ishikari, but research is needed to confirm its distribution (Murakami and Ohtaishi 2000). Martes melampus tsuensis is sparsely distributed on the Tsushima Islands of Japan (Buskirk 1994). Martes melampus coreensis is found on the mainland of South Korea into North Korea. (Anderson, 1970; Buskirk, et al., 1994; Hosoda, et al., 1999; Murakami and Ohtaishi, 2000)


Japanese martens are found along valleys, primarily in broad-leaved forests (dominated by Quercus serrata and Castanopsis cuspidata). This species will use conifer plantations and open fields (Tatara and Doi 1994). It will use dens in trees and ground burrows (Nowak 1999). Characteristics of the Tsushima Islands include: 88% forested, mean low January temperature of 4°C, mean high August temperature of 26°C, uncommon and light snowfall, and a low human population (Buskirk 1994). The habitat of this species is similar to that of Martes zibellina (Otsu 1972). (Buskirk, et al., 1994; Nowak, 1999; Otsu, 1972; Tatara and Doi, 1994)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 1807 m
    0.00 to 5928.48 ft

Physical Description

The head and body length is 470 to 545 mm (Anderson 1970). The tail length is 170 to 223 mm. Age of martens is determined by tooth eruption and wear. Sexes are significantly different in size, with males being larger (Tatara and Doi 1994). Mass varies from 500 to 1,700 g for adults. Nine live-captured males averaged 1,563 g and 4 females averaged 1,011 g (Tatara and Doi 1994). Pelage coloration varies from yellowish brown to dark brown throughout with a white to cream-colored neck patch. (Anderson, 1970; Tatara and Doi, 1994)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    500 to 1700 g
    17.62 to 59.91 oz
  • Average mass
    250.5 g
    8.83 oz
  • Range length
    470 to 545 mm
    18.50 to 21.46 in


See reproduction.


Information on mating behaviors of Japanese martens is unavailable.

Martes melampus reach sexual maturity between one and two years of age. They are seasonal breeders, mating from late March through Mid-May, and giving birth between mid-July and early August. Embryonic diapause probably occurs in M. melampus (Buskirk 1994). Japanese martens produce 1 to 5 offspring per litter, with a mean of 1.5. They are iteroparous. (Buskirk, et al., 1994; Imaizumi, 1949; Kuroda, 1940; Macdonald, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Japanese martens breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in late March to mid-May.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 5
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 to 2 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 to 2 years

Young are altricial, and are cared for by the mother. As in all mammals, the mother produces milk with which to feed her young. Japanese Marten kits are born deaf, blind, and furred (Macdonald 1999). Young martens can kill prey by 3 to 4 months and leave their mother shortly thereafter. (Imaizumi, 1949; Kuroda, 1940; Macdonald, 1999)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Information on lifespan in Japanese martens is unavailable.


Juveniles try to establish territories shortly after becoming sexually mature. Home range of male Japanese martens averaged 0.70 square km and females averaged 0.63 square km with less than 10% overlap between any 2 home ranges (Buskirk 1994). Relatively small home range sizes may depend on abundance and distribution of food within preferred habitat. Scats were found primarily in home range peripheries in a doughnut-shaped distribution. Scat placement confirms active maintenance of boundaries by scent marking, a common social behavior in mustelids (Tatara and Doi 1994). Martes melampus has been observed jumping up to 2 m from the ground into a tree (Yoshiyuki and Mikuriya 1974). (Buskirk, et al., 1994; Tatara and Doi, 1994; Yoshiyuki and Mikuriya, 1974)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Scat analyses indicate that M. melampus is omnivorous. However, it may be characterized as an opportunistic generalist. It eats a highly diverse array of food through the year. Important foods are fruits and berries from spring to autumn, insects in summer and autumn, and small mammals and birds all year round. It likely competes with other carnivores for small mammals (Tatara and Doi 1994).

Foods eaten include plants (mostly berries and seeds): Diospyros kaki, Actinidia arguta, Rubus hirsutus, Elaeagnus pungens, E. umbellata, Vitis ficifolia, Ficus electa, Morus australis, Rhus spp., Stauntonia hexaphylla, and Camellia japonica, rabbits and other small mammals: Lepus brachyurus angustidens, Petaurista leucogenys niddonis, Clethrionomys rufocanus andersoni, Apodemus speciosus, Apodemus argenteus, Mus musculus, and Rattus, birds and their eggs: Phasianus soemmeringii scintillans, Phasianus colchicus karpowi, Turdus naumanni eunomus, and Emberiza cioides ciopsis, invertebrates: Coleoptera and Mantodea centipedes and spiders, Scolopendra subspinipes, frogs and their eggs: Rana tsushimensis, earthworms, fish, gastropods, and crustaceans: Ligia exotica and Sesarma haematocheir.

Japanese martens adapt their fruit and berry foraging to local plant phenology. In the presence of interspecific competitors or human disturbance, they change to alternative food resources, making them more adaptable than Mustela sibirica and Felis bengalensis, which are more prey specific (Tatara and Doi 1994). (Obara, 1970; Otsu, 1972; Tatara and Doi, 1994)

  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • fish
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


Den selection is the most obvious adaptation to protection from predation. Martes melampus rests in tree and ground dens. Five adults were found killed by feral dogs and 38 killed by vehicle collisions between 1986 and 1989 (Tatara and Doi 1994). Humans also trap them. (Tatara and Doi, 1994)

Ecosystem Roles

Little is known about the ecology of the M. melampus (Buskirk 1994). It may be surmized from its predatory feeding habits, however, that populations of M. melampus affect local populations of small mammals and birds, thereby affecting seed dispersal, etc. (Buskirk, et al., 1994)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Martes melampus is trapped for fur from 1 December through 31 January (Nowak 1999) except on Hokkaido and the Tsushima Islands, where it is protected (Buskirk 1994). It is illegal to harvest females (Otsu 1972), a restriction that helps to preserve the population. Martes melampus predation of Lepus brachyurus is beneficial to the timber industry, because L. brachyurus browsing may destroy tree quality (Otsu 1972). (Buskirk, et al., 1994; Nowak, 1999; Otsu, 1972)

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

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

These martens may consume insects that are beneficial to agriculture (Otsu 1972). (Otsu, 1972)

Conservation Status

Martes melampus is a species of concern due to pressure from human activities in recent years, which has brought drastic changes in the natural environment of Japan. It is decreasing in numbers due to excessive trapping for its fur and because of the harmful effects of agricultural insecticides. As a result, females are protected from trapping (Otsu 1972).

Martes melampus tsuensis was designated a vulnerable Natural Monument Species by the Japanese Agency of Cultural Affairs in 1971 (Buskirk 1994), which supported its classification as vulnerable by the IUCN (Hilton-Taylor 2000). This subspecies is now legally protected on the Tsushima Islands (Schreiber et al. 1989). Although the Tsushima Islands are 88% forested, 34% of the forest is conifer plantation. This poses a challenge, because important foods of M. melampus tsuensis may not be common in these plantations (Tatara and Doi 1994). Between 1986 and 1989, 38 M. melampus tsuensis were found killed by vehicles and another 5 were found killed by feral dogs. The conservation plan for this subspecies should consider further habitat degredation by forestry practices and road development, as well as a method to control feral dogs (Buskirk 1994).

If there are no mating isolation mechanisms between endemic M. zibellina and introduced M. melampus in Hokkaido, natural hybridization between them may be possible (Hosoda et al. 1999). Hosoda suggests protection of M. zibellina from gene contamination by introduced M. melampus. Fortunately, there is no documentation of hybridization yet. However, mating isolation mechanisms between them have not been studied. Further research should evaluate whether there are different pre- and post-mating isolation mechanisms, in order to maintain the endemism of M. zibellina. (Buskirk, et al., 1994; Hosoda, et al., 1999; Otsu, 1972; Schreiber, et al., 1989)

Other Comments

Genetic studies show that M. melampus separated from Martes zibellina about 1.8 million years ago (Hosoda et al. 1999; Kurose et al. 1999).

Hepatozoonosis is prevalent, but susceptibility to it may be low. The most commonly parasitized organ was the heart (Yanai et al. 1995). (Hosoda, et al., 1999; Kurose, et al., 1999; Yanai, et al., 1995)


Bill Barthen (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.



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.


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.


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


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.

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

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


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.


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


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


Anderson, E. 1970. Quaternary evolution of the genus *Martes* (Carnivora, Mustelidae). Acta Zoologica, 130: 132.

Buskirk, S., A. Harestad, M. Raphael, R. Powell. 1994. Martens, sables, and fishers: biology and conservation. Ithaca, New York, U.S.A: Cornell University Press.

Hilton-Taylor, C. 2000. 2000 IUCN red list of threatened species. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

Hosoda, T., H. Suzuki, M. Iwasa, M. Hayashida, S. Watanabe. 1999. Genetic relationships within and between the Japanese marten *Martes melampus* and the sable *Martes zibellina*, based on variation of mitochondrial DNA and nuclear ribosomal DNA. Mammal Study, 24: 25-33.

Imaizumi, Y. 1949. The natural history of Japanese mammals. Tokyo, Japan: Yoyo shobo.

Kuroda, N. 1940. A monograph of the Japanese mammals. Tokyo, Japan: Sanseido.

Kurose, N., R. Masuda, B. Siriaroonrat, M. Yoshida. 1999. Intraspecific variation of mitochondrial cytochrome b gene sequences of *Martes melampus* and *Martes zibellina* (Mustelidae, Carnivora, Mammalia) in Japan. Zoological Science, 16: 693-700.

Macdonald, D. 1999. The encyclopedia of mammals. New York, New York, U.S.A: Facts on File, Incorporated.

Murakami, T., N. Ohtaishi. 2000. Current distribution of the sable and introduced Japanese marten in Hokkaido. Mammal Study, 25: 149-152.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A: The John's Hopkins University Press.

Obara, I. 1970. Stomach contents of a Tsushima marten, *Martes melampus tsuensis*. Mammalogical Society of Japan Journal, 5: 79-80.

Otsu, S. 1972. Winter food of Japanese yellow marten, *Martes melampus melampus* (Temminck and Schlegel), in Yamagata prefecture. Japenese Journal of Applied Entomology and Zoology, 16: 75-78.

Schreiber, A., R. Wirth, M. Riffel, H. Van Rompaey. 1989. Weasels, civits, mongooses, and their relatives: an action plan for the conservation of mustelids and viverrids. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

Tatara, M., T. Doi. 1994. Comparative analyses on food habits of Japanese marten, Siberian weasel, and leopard cat in the Tsushima Islands, Japan. Ecological Research, 9: 99-107.

Yanai, T., A. Tomita, T. Masegi, K. Ishikawa, T. Iwasaki. 1995. Histopathologic features on naturally occuring hepatozoonosis in wild martens (*Martes melampus*). Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 31: 233-237.

Yoshiyuki, M., M. Mikuriya. 1974. Some habits of the Japanese marten, *Martes melampus melampus* (Wagner 1840). Journal of the Mammalogical Society of Japan, 6: 39-42.