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Monday Mustelid - Martes melampus Edition

Continuing our mustelid’s-eye tour of Japan.

The Japanese Marten (Martes melampus) is a member of the Martes genus that lives not only in Japan (Shikoku, Honshu and Kyushu), but in North and South Korea as well. It prefers to live in the valleys of broad-leaf forests, and can build dens in open fields or in conifer trees. In some of its range, the Japanese Marten is trapped for fur, but it is also protected in other areas.


Japanese Martens have the sleek, elongated body type common among other marten species. They can grow up to 21 inches (54.5 cm) in body length, and the larger males can weigh up to 3.7 pounds (1.7 kg) depending on the season. Their coats are usually dark brown, but they can range in shades. They will usually have a pale patch under the chin and darker markings around the nose.

The diet of the Japanese Marten is extremely diverse, with study indicating that it is either omnivorous or an opportunistic generalist. They eat a lot of berries and other fruit in season, from spring to autumn. During the summer, they consume insects, and they will prey upon small mammals and birds year-round.


There are currently three recognized subspecies of Japanese Marten:

  • Martes melampus melampus (several Japanese islands)
  • Martes melampus coreensis (Korean marten)
  • Martes melampus tsuensis (Tsushima Island)

The reproductive habits of the Japanese Marten need to be further studied, but it’s likely that they mate once a year in the spring. Females give birth to a littler of one to five offspring in July and August, and they are completely dependent on their mother for the first few weeks of life. She will teach them to hunt their own food by the time they are three or four months old, and they will begin to leave her to establish their own territories when they are self-sufficient.


In some parts of Japan, there are myths related to the Japanese Marten’s shapeshifting ability. One of the sayings goes “The fox has seven disguises, the tanuki has eight, and the marten has nine.” There are superstitions surrounding the Japanese Marten as well, with the killing of a marten being associated with the killer encountering a fire soon after, or having a marten cross your path bringing bad luck.

Source for all images used in this post.

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