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Monday Mustelid - Martes zibellina Edition

Ground control to Major Tom. We have mustelids.

The Sable (Martes zibellina) is a type of marten that can be found in the forests of northern Asia, primarily Siberia and northern China. It was once found as far west as Scandinavia, but it has historically been heavily hunted for its fur, which is still prized today. The Sable had to be reintroduced into areas where it had been completely extirpated, and much of its population today is the result of huge efforts between 1940 and 1965 to reintroduce almost 20,000 of them back into their Russian habitat.


Sables can grow up to 22 inches (56 cm) in body length, with an additional 5 inches (12 cm) of tail. They weigh approximately 4 pounds (1.8 kg), and females are slightly smaller than males. Their coats are varying shades of brown which are specific to different subspecies, from very light brown to very dark brown. Sable coats are longer during the winter, and one of the reasons their fur is so sought after is that it doesn’t have as much of a “grain” as other pelts. Unfortunately, this feature has maintained the market for Sable fur.

The diet of the Sable depends mostly on the season. Being omnivorous, they are able to adapt their feeding habits to whatever food is available at the time. During the summer, they hunt hares and small rodents, fish and even other mustelids. During the winter, they will eat nuts, berries and follow the tracks of larger predators so that they can scavenge the remains of their kills. They will still eat hares and rodents if they can get them.


The mating season of the Sable depends on the location of the specific habitat, but generally occurs during the summer. Males will fight each other fiercely for mating rights, and engage in a lot of physical communication - they will dig ruts in the snow and urinate, and jump and run around with potential mates. Females delay implantation of the fertilized eggs for about eight months, so that they can time the births to occur in spring. Litter sizes range from one to seven kits, and males will assist females by defending them and bringing them food. Sables have been known to interbreed with Pine Martens, producing hybrid offspring called Kiduses. Kiduses are usually sterile.


Sable are generally able to defend themselves well against natural predators like eagles, owls, and larger mammals. Against humans, they are not so formidable. Thankfully, hunting is generally restricted only to licensed individuals and many of the Sables whose fur enters the fashion market are farmed. Sables have slowly been able to regain their original numbers in some parts of their greater distribution.


Source for all images used in this post.

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